Friday, October 29, 2010

BirdCam:  Updates

Yellow Variant House Finch

House Finch males (Capodacus mexicanus), usually colored in rosy hues, also come in a yellow variant.  I managed to catch one today at the BirdCam station.  This looks like a young, first fall male just starting to get his colors.

The other day, I posted a "First Sighting" of a Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus).  Since then I have managed to catch some slightly better photos:

Black-capped Chickadee

These are fast little birds and always on the move.  Together with the low light conditions provided by fall weather, getting a crisp shot seems to be a challenge.  In the second picture, the Chickadee is joined by a Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis):

Black-capped Chickadee

Black-capped Chickadee

Finally, notice the Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum 'Osakazuki') in the photos.  The sun came out late this afternoon to add a little sparkle.  Another Junco enjoys a snack:

Japanese Maple 'Osakazuki'

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Skywatch Friday: The Sky is Falling

The sky is falling on Skagit Bay

On Skagit Bay, the sky reaches down to touch the island treetops.  No drama, no spectacle, no bright colors in this week's photo, just some Northwest moodiness.  Add a fireplace, a good book and a dog at your feet to complete the picture.

Skywatch Friday

Monday, October 25, 2010

Maple Time

Japanese Maple

Late October is definitely Maple Time.  In the Pacific Northwest garden, maples are highly favored trees.  They are particularly effective growing in the understory of Douglas Firs, where they will add splashes of color in the fall.  Often overlooked, the humble, native Vine Maple (Acer circinatum) can produce stunning fall colors:

Vine Maple

Vine Maple

Vine Maples tend to be shrub-like, especially if grown in a more shady location.  A similar species, larger, more tree-like and with bigger leaves is the Full Moon Maple (Acer japonicum 'Vitifolium'):

Full Moon Maple

Of course, Maple cultivation has been raised to an art form in the Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum).  I have three varieties, Katsura, Sango Kaku, and Osakazuki:


Sango Kaku


As always, the photos here are unretouched.  Sunset describes Osakazuki as "the Japanese Maple with the best fall color."  Even when the leaves have dropped to the ground, the beauty continues:

Osakazuki Leaves

Saturday, October 23, 2010

BirdCam:  House Finch

House Finch

Of the Finches, the charming House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus) is the most commonly seen in my yard.  In fact, it is among the most frequently seen of all birds year around.  Only the males display the rosy-pink colors.   A brown cap distinguishes them from Purple and Cassin's Finches.  The females are dressed in brown tones and are more striped:

House Finch

The flowering plant currently seen in the BirdCam photos is Sedum  'Autumn Joy.'  The plants are dying back now, but the seed heads will stand all winter and provide food for birds.  It tolerates poor soil and drought, perfect for my yard.

House Finch

House Finch

BirdCam:  A First Sighting

Black-capped Chickadee

I realize this is not a good quality photo, but it is an important one, nevertheless.  There is some work involved with BirdCam photos.  The first chore is to delete the bad ones, the blanks, blurs and butt-shots.  You can do this quickly with a photo viewer.  Next, I sort them into species folders.  I was skimming through today's shots deleting the bad ones when, waaaaaait just a moment!  This is not the ubiquitous Chestnut-backed Chickadee.  This is a Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus).  He's even giving us some unique Chickadee style at the feeder.  In 22 years, I have never seen one in my yard.  I didn't actually see it with my eyes, and the photo is not perfect, but I assume this will count as a sighting.  I am going to count it anyway.  I did not expect to capture something totally new with the BirdCam.  What a great surprise.  Now I can anticipate getting a better shot.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Skywatch Friday:  Time Portal

Time Portal

A portal opens in the fog to reveal a midwinter sunrise over Skagit Bay.  The scene evokes a passageway through time from science fiction fare.  In fact, the camera really is a time machine that allows us to view scenes from the past.

Skywatch Friday

Monday, October 18, 2010

Birdcam:  Dark-eyed Junco

Dark-eyed Junco Male

One of my favorite birds is the Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis).  It is a member of the Emberezid family along with Sparrows, Towhees and Buntings.  Like the Swallows to Capistrano, they return to South Fidalgo Island every fall.  They are gentle, polite and unassuming little souls, not flashy or brightly colored.  Instead, they are tastefully attired in shades of black, charcoal, rust, beige and gray.  Nevertheless, take a Junco and add a bit of holly and you have a perfect Christmas card image.  I don’t know where they go in the summer, perhaps further north or more inland to deeper forests.  They are ground nesters, so they probably seek territories free of raccoons and other predators.  Based on their numbers, this strategy appears to be working.  This is the "Oregon" race where the female's colors are a bit paler:

Dark-eyed Junco Female

There are also "pink-sided" races with gray heads which are not supposed to be here, but guess what:

Pink-sided Junco?

BirdCam:  Style Points

A Chickadee With Style

This Chestnut-backed Chickadee (Poecile rufescens) adds a bit of style to his feeder visits.  Why be ordinary when you can be special?  In the next photo, he demonstrates the flyaway dismount:

The Flyaway Dismount

BirdCam Tip:  I have been trying the Eye-Fi SD card in the BirdCam with mixed results.  It is supposed to transmit images from the camera to the PC over your wi-fi network.  This weekend, I replaced Norton IS with MSE and the Windows firewall.  Immediately, the images began appearing fast and furiously.   If you are having trouble receiving BirdCam images using the Eye-Fi card, the problem may lie with your firewall.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Enhanced Radar System Coming to Washington

Doppler Radar

KIRO-TV in Seattle is reporting that dual polarization doppler radar is coming to Washington.  The Camano Island weather radar shown on this blog will be upgraded in July, 2011.  Portland, Spokane and Pendleton will follow and a new coastal radar in the Grays Harbor area will be installed in September.  Among other benefits, this missing piece in the radar network will visualize the segment of the Washington coast blocked by the Olympic Mountains.

Current weather radar scans with horizontal waves and reads the density of echoes in that single dimension.  The new system "sees" with horizontal and vertical radar waves and can distinguish different types of precipitation, rain, hail, etc.  The only dual polarization system currently operating is at the Radar Operations Center in Norman, Oklahoma.  Washington will be the first state upgraded, with the new system going nationwide within 18 months.

Editorial note:  Normally, I would have provided a link to the KIRO-TV website article.  Unfortunately, random mouse pointer movements on the site deliver pop-ups that repeatedly cover the text one is trying to read.  I refuse to link to sites that produce this annoyance.  Photo: N.O.A.A.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Skywatch Friday:  October Surprise

Time 0648

This week we pan a bit to the left to watch the sunrise over Kiket Island in Skagit Bay.  The spotted pattern of the clouds initially caught my eye.  I continued to watch for the next forty minutes.  The fall and winter sunrises here fascinate me, so I will probably bore everyone to death with them.

Time 0720

Time 0725

Time 0730

Then, after three days of rain, wind and overcast, the skies cleared and evening gave us a nice sunset.  While my sunrises are back-lit, the sunsets are lighted from the front:

Time 1824

Skywatch Friday

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

DaveCam:  Spotted Towhee

Spotted Towhee

I was at Deception Pass State Park today and met this nice fellow on Rosario Head.  He is a Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus).  Pronounce it TOE-hee or TOE-ee.  They come from the same family as Sparrows, and in size are midway between Sparrows and Robins.  The eye color is not a camera artifact.  They really are red.  This is not a BirdCam shot either, it's from the DaveCam.  I hope this will atone for my Starling post from earlier today.  If you plan to camp in the State Park, I recommend reserving site number 280 at Bowman Bay:

Campsite No. 280

The campsite has a nice view, is relatively secluded and sits adjacent to the Rosario-Bowman Bay Nature Trail.  I went to the park today to look for fall colors.  All I found was Northwest green everywhere.  Then, growing on the beach at Lotte Bay, I found Entire-leaved Gumweed (Grindelia integrifolia) in the Aster family still in bloom in October:

Arnica Flowers

Of course, you cannot visit Deception Pass State Park without catching a nice shot of the Bridge.  This one is from the Lighthouse Point trail:

Deception Pass Bridge

BirdCam:  #&*!!@ Starlings

European Starling

...and I thought they were gone for the season.  I can't put suet out in the summer because it attracts European Starlings (Sturnus vulgurus).  When they come, it is a swarm.  Then they don't leave until every bit of suet is gone and every feeder is empty.  I try to be egalitarian with nature.  I even appreciate slugs.  Besides their gluttony, however, there are things about these birds I just don't like.  They are twitchy and flappy and seem kind of stupid.  They have a habit of coming down my fireplace chimney, apparently looking for nest sites.  Then I must become intimate with these twitchy, flappy, stupid birds.  So, here are the Starlings and now I can be finished with them.

European Starling

European Starling

Even changing the feeder at the BirdCam station doesn't solve the problem:

European Starling

Monday, October 11, 2010

Columbus Day 1962

On Columbus Day, 1962 John Kennedy was in his 1000-day presidency.  Mercury astronauts Glenn, Carpenter and Schirra had achieved orbital spaceflight and the Beetles debuted on BBC Radio.  I was sixteen years old and what a wonderful time it was.  It was called Camelot.

Gig Harbor, Washington is my home town.  This south Puget Sound community is located on the west end of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.  On Friday, October 12, 1962 a home game was scheduled for the Peninsula High School football team against Fife High School.  That was to be the big event of the day.  There had been weather warnings, but truly severe weather is rare here.  Northwesterners typically don't pay attention to weather.  It was breezy, but the game was on and everyone was assembled.  The teams, coaches, officials, bands, cheerleaders and stands filled with Pen High Seahawks fans were all in place, ready to go.  Next to the field, the new Industrial Arts building was under construction.

The wind started picking up just before game time.  The game wasn't starting and I remember the coaches and officials huddling on the 50-yard line.  It was then, quite suddenly, when 4x8 sheets of plywood and lumber started blowing across the field from the construction site.  A moment later, the field lights went out as the entire area lost power.  The windstorm hit us with a rapidly accelerating fury no one had expected.  75 mph winds cancelled the football game and put Camelot on hold.  In the chaos of howling wind and sudden darkness, we made our way to our vehicles and our rides home.  It would become the most memorable football game never played.

The drive from my high school at Purdy into Gig Harbor was normally about 20 minutes.  That night, it took us more than an hour to get home.  The trip was a slow obstacle course of falling trees, limbs, telephone poles and sparking power lines.  Besides our headlights, the only illumination was coming from burning and melting transformers glowing hot-white and pink.  This area was largely covered by Douglas Fir forest, with corridors cut through for roads and highways.  The trees seemed to shelter us from the worst winds, while taking the brunt of the storm themselves.  When I arrived home, I found a three-foot diameter fir tree on the ground where the carport had been.  Luckily the car was not in there and our house was spared.  We were also fortunate not to be the visiting team from Fife.  They faced a long and dangerous drive home across the Narrows Bridge to the other side of Tacoma.

The Columbus Day Storm of 1962 is now the benchmark for windstorms in the Pacific Northwest.  In the parlance of meteorologists, it was an extratropical cyclone, born in the central Pacific.  Along the coasts of Oregon and Washington, peak winds comparable to a category 3 hurricane were measured.  Further inland at McChord Air Force Base near Gig Harbor, peak gusts reached 88 miles per hour.  Wind speeds hit 90 miles per hour at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island near my home now.  The wind blew most of the night, but I recall the next day was calm, sunny and warm.  The damage could be seen everywhere, made more prominent in the bright sunlight.  It seems nature likes to play with us.

In another three days, President Kennedy would be briefed on the discovery of Soviet missiles in Cuba.  Camelot would end badly.

Our season of storms is beginning once again, and we can expect it to last until January.  The concern about global warming is not necessarily "warming."  In fact, it does not even mean it will always be warmer.  Instead, it could bring more large and violent weather events world wide.  Imagine two or three 1962 Columbus Days every year.  We didn't pay attention to the weather warnings back then.  Perhaps 48 years later we can take a lesson from that experience.  Photos:  N.O.A.A.

Adapted from an article I originally posted at Windows Live Spaces.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Olympic Rain Shadow

Radar at 4:32PM on 10/9/2010

The Olympic Rain Shadow has been discussed here as an influence on local climate.  A major rain event, as we are having today, provides an opportunity to illustrate the phenomenon.  The Olympic Mountain Range lies southwest of the city of Port Angeles.  The radar cannot penetrate the mountains creating an empty wedge in the image.

The radar echo also reveals the rain shadow.  Rain systems typically move inland from southwest to northeast and are split by the mountains.  Areas between Port Angeles and Bellingham, including the southern San Juans, Fidalgo and Whidbey Islands are in the shadow at the time of this image.  When I captured the screen shot, I could actually see a large patch of blue sky over Whidbey Island.  The following table lists approximate annual rainfall for area communities.  Can you spot the ones inside the rain shadow?

US Average37"     94 cm
Bellingham35"89 cm
Anacortes26"66 cm
Lopez Island26"66 cm
South Fidalgo20"51 cm
North Whidbey20"51 cm
Sequim17"43 cm
Port Angeles26"66 cm
Mount Vernon32"81 cm
Everett38"97 cm
Seattle38"97 cm

Friday, October 8, 2010

BirdCam:  Chestnut-backed Chickadee

Chestnut-backed Chickadee

A Chestnut-backed Chickadee (Poecile rufescens) poses nicely for his portrait and shows off his colors.  These year-around residents are daily visitors at the feeders and especially fond of suet.  He is my first catch at the new BirdCam site.  Birds are starting to warm up to this new feeder location.  I have already spotted Juncos, Jays, Chickadees and Nuthatches coming to snack.

Chickadees are fast little birds and they are fearless.  In the basement patio, they come even if I am there.  They arrive with a "chip-chip-chip" as if to say, "back off, big guy, I'm hungry."  They are not a bit intimidated by humans.  I like that.

I am still trying to figure out the Eye-Fi SD card.  Just when I think it's not working, it suddenly fires up and several photos will appear on the laptop.  As each photo arrives, a little window slides up in the lower-right corner of the screen.  It's an exciting moment when it happens.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Skywatch Friday:   Stratocumulus Undulatus

Stratocumulus undulatus clouds

Over Skagit Bay, stratocumulus undulatus clouds reveal wavy air motions in the atmosphere.  They can be a signal that rainy weather is on the way.  Or rainy weather is letting up.  Or both. 

Those who have followed this series may have noticed that all of the Skywatch photos here are the same scene shot from the same spot.  The two islands in the center of the photo are Skagit in front and Hope behind it.

Skywatch Friday

Sunday, October 3, 2010

BirdCam:  The Setup

BirdCam Setup

The BirdCam is now set up in a new location.  I have always had the feeders in the basement patio on the south side of the house.  Here, I could watch the visitors from the basement.  With shadows and glaring sun, however, the lighting is not the best for photography.  The entry garden behind the house has always been actively visited by birds.  They come to bathe and get a drink in the koi pond and trees and shrubs offer security.  I have seen Cedar Waxwings, Goldfinches, Kinglets, Nuthatches, Wrens and Chickadees.  It gets good lighting without shadows and glare, so this is the spot I have chosen for the BirdCam.

I am starting out with a suet feeder at the camera.  I have also added some seed feeders nearby to help get the birds accustomed to the spot as a food source.  I will add fruit to the mix shortly to attract Cedar Waxwings.  Eventually, I can rotate the various feeders at the camera to catch different species.  Finally, a test shot to check focus and position:

BirdCam Test Shot

I am sure there will be more adjusting and tweaking to get this right.  Before moving the camera, I managed to catch a few more ground feeders in the basement patio:

Dark-eyed Junco
Dark-eyed Junco

Eastern Gray Squirrel
Eastern Gray Squirrel

Spotted Towhee
Spotted Towhee

Steller's Jay
Steller's Jay

House ('English') Sparrows
House (English) Sparrows

House Finch
House Finch

Townsend's Chipmunk
Townsend's Chipmunk