Sunday, April 23, 2017

April on Yellow Island, it’s not all about the flowers.

April marks the real beginning of a couple things on Yellow: by the end of the month the meadows are covered in flowers with the resulting flood of tourists and the dawn chorus has started in earnest. The last two years we were spoiled with mild winters and early blooms. 2017 has been cool and wet and the flowers are two to three weeks behind last year. The few paintbrushes that were showing color then got desiccated by 60-70 mph winds on April 7.
Taken April 6, the day before the storm

Taken April 8, the day after the storm
Slight recover, April 24

Looking much better 100 feet away and somewhat protected from the wind
Likewise, a few fawn lilies didn’t survive the windy blast. Luckily most did and white pockets of this early spring bloomer can be seen scattered around the island. Shooting star on the north side is also doing quite well even though the first bloom was three weeks later than last year.
Fawn lilies that survived the storm
Shooting stars on the north side of the island not hammered by the wind.
For one species, it has been a spectacular year. I have never seen as much blue-eyed Mary as this spring. It grows low to the ground on the north side out of the wind and was unaffected by the wind storm.

Blue-eyed Mary, April 24, 2017
The birds add something the flowers don’t, song! The dawn chorus begins in mid to late March and builds through April into May. American robins are one of the first species to sing in the spring followed by the sparrows, song and white-crowned. Spotted towhee should also be included here.  Next up would be the warblers, orange and yellow-rumped (Audubon’s). Species arriving mid to late April include house wren and American goldfinch. Olive-sided flycatcher doesn’t arrive until mid to late May. Of course some bird species are vocal but far from melodious. I put Canada geese, northwest crows, glaucous-winged gulls and even black oystercatchers in this category. When recording it’s hard to avoid these more raucous birds. The following recordings are all from late April. The first is from 2004, the next from 2005 and finally 2017. They are several days apart in the calendar year plus at slightly different times in the morning so this would not be good for a scientific comparison. Yet it is still interesting how different the three recordings are. How many species can you pick out?
The 2004 list includes in rough order of appearance: white-crowned sparrow, spotted towhee northwest crow, house wren, and Canada goose.
The 2005 list has: song sparrow, northwest crow, spotted towhee, glaucous-winged gull, and black oystercatcher.
This year’s list includes: Canada goose, white-crowned sparrow, Bewick’s wren, black oystercatcher, spotted towhee, American goldfinch, and rufous hummingbird.
Let me know if your hear other species I should add to the list. I must admit there are songs included here that I don’t know.😉 

Finally, if you don't care about names but just like listening to birds, here's ten minutes of song form 4/24/17. It fades in and out as birds move between their singing perches, but ends with a bang! 

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Some highlights from 2016 on Yellow.

January is always a great month for sunrises.

February has great sunsets.

The color in the sky gives was to color on the ground. In March fawn lilies dominate.
April is when camas takes over.
May paintbrush comes into its own after starting to bloom in March.
June has prickly pear cactus and fireweed.

July is seal pupping time with pups riding on moms' backs.

August has billowy clouds and colorful sunsets.

September also has colorful sunrises. On the equinoxes the sun rises straight down Wasp Passage.
October has spectacular morning light on the Pacific madrones.
November and December have wind  storms (willow across the trail),
king (high) tides with the dinghy sometimes filled with water and logs
sometimes on top of the floating logs.

But like the other months, also flat seas with beautiful, calming sunsets.


Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Storm That Wasn’t (and some that were)

Can anyone remember a storm that was so hyped that in the end delivered so little? From October 13 to 15 the Pacific Northwest was supposed to have the storm of the century rivaling the 1962 Columbus Day storm. The biggest wallop was supposed to happen late afternoon into the evening of October 15.
Earlier in the week, on Tuesday, there was a smaller windstorm that didn’t get much hype. During that storm several trees (willow and madrone), several large branches (Douglas fir), plus a large section of Juniper came down. I cleared the trails prior to and in anticipation of the BIG ONE.
Willow across the trail
Madrone snapped off
How do big storms affect Yellow Island? The biggest problem is having a boat on a mooring. Yellow has two moorings, one on the north side, one on the south. I have my personal boat on one and the TNC boat on the other. When a storm of this predicted magnitude  (70 mph gusts) is imminent, I take one boat to the TNC slip at the Port of Friday Harbor and use the mooring in the lee of the island for the other boat. In fact, any time the wind gets above 30 mph it’s a good idea not to have a boat on the windward side of the island. Below is a photo of my boat in a 60+ mph wind in August, 2015. You can see there are a plenty of places a mooring could fail in such situations. That day I got lucky.
Boat at mooring in 60+ mph gusts
In fact I got lucky twice that day. The mooring didn’t fail and the storm delivered a nice piece of cedar lawn furniture that wasn’t too much the worse for wear given it had rolled around in the surf and intertidal for quite some time.
Cedar bench, a gift from the sea.
And if the boat did break loose, what does the beach where it would end up look like?  The following photos are from a storm on November 12, 2007 near high tide. Gusts were again in the 65+ mph range. This storm didn't receive any where near the hype of  October 22 event.

So knowing all this might happen on October 15, I did in fact tow a boat to Friday Harbor on Friday afternoon. But Saturday morning a couple things happened. First they were backing off on the 70 mph gust but still saying it could be a damaging storm. Second, they kept changing the direction of the storm through various models from NE to SE. At one point the prediction was the storm would start from the NE and over several hours move to the SE. All the time the winds were to be above 50 mph gusting to 60 mph. What that meant is there was no way the boat could be out of the storm the entire time. Instead of being the Harry Truman of Yellow Island, I decided it would be best to get both boats to safe moorage. Fortunately, I had several friends offer places to stay on San Juan Island so that is where I weathered the storm that wasn’t.
When people got up Sunday morning, peak winds the night before were ‘only’ in the 40+ mph range, enough to create some nice surf and do something the previous portions of the storm hadn’t done, rearrange the landing beach at Yellow. Since last winter, the shape of the beach was a gradual slope up to a 20 foot wide flat area where I could leave the dinghy above the high tide. After the storm, the flat area was gone and the slope lead straight to the driftwood at the base of the vegetated bluff. Now there is no way to get the dinghy out of the water at high tide. That means strictly using the north mooring and beach on that side for the dinghy. until the beach is again re-arranged.
SE landing beach at a foot and a half below high tide
In the above photo you can tell the wet driftwood, floating at the last high tide, from the dry driftwood. Clearly there is no safe place for dinghy here.

And how does the cabin fair in these storms? It has survived almost 70 years of storms and I feel totally safe in it. But it is exciting. The following photo was taken during the 2011 Thanksgiving Day storm. Again there were 65+ mph gusts and this was at high tide.

Storm side of the cabin protected nicely by the rock outcropping.

Bottomline: This was a good drill for when the big one does happen. And while the storm would have been exciting to experience, we really dodged a bullet with the damage the storm could have caused.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

September, my favorite month!

At last, the frantic pace of summer is over. Once again the islands return to what they are known for, ISLAND TIME. You’ll find many locals in the San Juans expressing the same thoughts and breathing huge sighs of relief. One of the first things I notice is that sailboats are actually sailing. During much of the summer I watch countless sailboats of all sizes motor up and down San Juan Channel. But something about September brings out the true sailors.
Every Labor Day weekend there is a wooden boat festival in Deer Harbor. A sailboat race around Yellow Island is one of the fun events I get to witness. The following photo is of the leaders passing Yellow this year.

September is also a month of beautiful light. From the colorful sunrises, to the midday fluffy clouds and deep blue water, to the spectacular sunsets, September can be a photographers dream.

September is also a special time for both plants and wildlife. With the return of the fall rains after a usually very dry summers, Yellow along with the other San Juan Islands starts greening up. The mosses and lichens that were bone dry all summer are taking on various hues of green while plants like licorice fern and yarrow are adding their own shades of green as they re-sprout.

In the area of the control burn done on August 28, plant life is already returning as buttercup re-sprouts and fescue starts showing new growth emerging from charred clumps.

In the above photo there is a small pile of crab shells mixed in with the buttercup. Areas of the island that are burned often have many such midden sites. But these are not native American middens; these are where mink have enjoyed a meal of fresh crab.
The bird life is in transition too. A couple of the early fall arrivals include red-necked grebes and golden-crowned sparrows. Yellow-rumped warblers that nested here are actively foraging in groups of up to eight as they “beef-up” for their migration. Savannah sparrows stop in for the month before moving on. Harlequin ducks can be seen year round but late August, early September is when their numbers start to build and they are seen on a more regular basis. The transition on Yellow is from seeing more land based birds to more marine species. Species already gone until next spring include the rufous hummingbirds and various swallow species.
Golden-crowned sparrow, a winter resident.

Yellow-rumped warbler, a nester preparing to head south for the winter.

September weather has a noticeably fall feel to it; the days seems crisper, the breezes cooler, and the occasional rains makes everything seem fresher. I, for one, would enjoy September weather year round.
Ending with a question: if you don’t know the location, would you be able to tell if a photo was a sunrise or sunset?