Thursday, March 30, 2017

Creepy or Cool?

I’ll let you decide.

While out exploring one day we came across this purple castle.
We turned on a road just before the castle so we didn’t get a really good look at it.  On the next road we came across this barn with some large carvings.

This plaque was on the barn wall:
Bandy is the last name of the owner who built the houses and structures around his Trollhaven.  He is also responsible for all of the carvings. 

Mr. Bandy invented a door hinge that is used in most modern commercial airplanes and sold them to Boeing (among others).  During his frequent visits to Boeing in Seattle, he became enamored with the countryside and discovered the land that he later purchased near Sequim. He built his home and the other structures, mistakenly thinking that they would be appreciated by everyone.

But some neighbors did not appreciate his originality, nor the traffic.  To appease them, he built the community a beautiful two-storied fire station, modeled after a Moorish castle.  That cooled everyone down except the original people who had spearheaded the complaint.  In spite of court findings that his creations complied with all state and county ordinances, they continued to harass him. 
Upon discovering the property across the road from these people was available, he bought it and built the house called Neptune's Keep.  His "nasty neighbors" finally backed off after they lost their view of the bay.

The purple castle titled “The Gatekeeper’s Castle” was designed and built from a dream.  Summer rental - $800 per night, minimum 2 nights (5 bedrooms 2 1/2 baths).
This beautiful beast is real.  
Trollhaven is also a working farm.

After seeing the large carvings we really weren’t paying much attention to our surroundings until we realized all the fence post were also carvings.
We ended up driving around twice because we had missed some of the carved fence posts.  These are not all of the fence post, just some of my favorites:

We saw several beautiful houses while driving around and, after some research, found that they are also part of TrollHaven.  Some of the houses and land are for sale, some can be rented and some are occupied.

So, creepy or cool?  I found the carvings so cool I wanted to take pictures of every one of them!  Mr. Bandy is quite talented.


Monday, March 27, 2017

A Tale of Two Goldeneyes

There is a great variety of ducks here at Dungeness National Wildlife refuge, including some that are hard to find back in Texas. One interesting pair are the Goldeneyes. There are two, the Common Goldeneye and Barrow's Goldeneye.

As you might guess, the Common Goldeneye is more widespread of the two, ranging nationwide during the winter. We even saw them way offshore while we were leading bird walks at Goose Island State Park this past December. The male Common Goldeneye has an oval white spot on its face and a predominantly white back and sides.
Common Goldeneye male

Here in the Pacific NW they are one of the more common ducks that we see, and are found in both fresh and salt water. Females are more subtlety marked than males, but their orange-tipped bill and golden eye make them distinctive. 
Common Goldeneye pair, with female Bufflehead in the foreground

Barrow's Goldeneyes are more restricted in their range. The Pacific and north Atlantic coasts are their main stomping grounds, though they do move inland to breed. The male Barrow's Goldeneye has a crescent-shaped white mark on its face and a darker back. 
Barrow's Goldeneye male

I've not yet gotten a good picture of a Barrow's Goldeneye female, but they are distinguished from the Common Goldeneye by their entirely orange bill. 

Trio of Barrow's Goldeneye males

We're enjoying the opportunity to closely observe birds that are uncommon in many areas of the country. More to come!!


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Wednesday Bird Walk

The Olympic Peninsula Audubon Society is a very active group of folks.  Among many other activities, they have a year-round Wednesday morning bird walk.  We’ve gone on two and have really enjoyed them. 
Wednesday Birding Group
We meet at the Dungeness River Audubon Center at Railroad Bridge Park that is located along the Dungeness River, the ancestral watershed of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe. The Center is the only U.S. Audubon Center with a tribal partner and the only rural center in Washington State. 
Dungeness River Audubon Center
 There are lots of bird feeders around the center where we start the bird walk. 
Hairy Woodpecker
Spotted Towhee
Chestnut-backed Chickadee
After birding around the feeders we head toward the Railroad Bridge.
The Railroad Bridge first carried trains in July, 1915. The last train crossed the bridge in March, 1985.

In 1992, many volunteers helped replace the railroad ties and planked deck of the former railroad bridge.

The total length of the bridge, truss plus trestle, is over 730 ft. long; making the Railroad Bridge the longest bridge on the Dungeness River.
Dungeness river
Our walk is 1 1/2 miles and usually takes a little over 2 hours. We pass through both heavily forested and open areas, and we see a variety of birds along the way.
Varied Thrush
Brown Creeper
We get some great views from the trails.
Still lots of snow on the mountains.

Washington State Bird:  American Goldfinch

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Can’t Pick Just One

We walk down to the Spit almost every day.  There are rocks of all sizes and lots of drift wood on the beach.  The sand on the beach is medium brown to black and the rocks are all different colors.

The Spit is on Refuge property so there is absolutely no removal of any rocks, driftwood, etc.  But, if you’re willing to walk West a little bit, you come to a cliff area that is part of the county park.  You’ll find the same kinds of rocks and the same beautiful driftwood and you can pick up a few treasures and put them in your pocket.
I have a hard time limiting myself to just a few rocks.  I try to just get colors I don’t already have.

I’ve found a few more rocks since I took this picture but this will give you an idea of the beautiful colors to be found. 
Even with the cold rainy weather we’ve had, we’re getting out and exploring every day.  We brought a great book with us that is very helpful in finding good places for birds and other interesting things. 

This is probably the most interesting bit of driftwood I’ve ever found.  It looks great on the wall! 

I’ll keep looking down.  There are still plenty of treasures to find!

Washington State Gem: Petrified Wood

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Harbor Seals

The waters off of the Olympic Peninsula are known for large numbers of marine mammals. There are resident packs of Killer Whales (Orca) along with some transient groups. Several types of whales can be seen in the area, as well as Sea and River Otters. But by far the most common marine mammal is the Harbor Seal.

Harbor Seals are well-named because they prefer coastal waters and can be found near beaches, sand spits, and in harbors. We've seen a few offshore here at the refuge, but nearby Port Angeles is the place to find them. There is a paper mill in the area with large rafts of logs anchored in a harbor. The seals love to haul out onto these logs and relax.

Harbor Seals vary in color, but the most common patterns are white with black spots, and black (dark gray) with light spots. Harbor Seals are known for adopting an odd "banana posture" when on land. They raise their heads and tails into the air and lay in that position. It looks really awkward but they don't seem to mind!

In Port Angeles we've seen dozens of seals laying on the log raft. They are about the same size and color as the logs, so it takes a while to realize how many are out there. In the picture below there are at least eight seals. Can you find them (click on the picture for a better look)?

This guy was our favorite. He was close and very expressive.

At one point he had a little itch.

Fun Fact: Sea Lions have external ear flaps and can swivel their hind flippers forward to allow them to walk on land. True Seals (like Harbor Seals) have no ear flaps and cannot turn their hind flippers, so they just sort of flop around on land. But they are excellent swimmers, diving to depths of 1500 feet and staying submerged for up to 20 minutes!

In the closeup above you can see the ear holes (no flaps!) on two different seals.

We look forward to seeing many more marine mammals in the coming months, but for now are enjoying all of these Harbor Seals.


Friday, March 10, 2017

Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge

Our summer home this year is at Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge on the Strait of Juan de Fuca near Sequim, Washington.  It was designated a National Wildlife Refuge by President Woodrow Wilson on January 20, 1915.  Its highest priority is to provide and preserve habitat for the enhancement of wintering waterfowl and other migratory birds with emphasis on Brant.

Most of the 770 acre refuge is on Dungeness Spit and Graveyard Spit.  Spits are sand and cobble beaches surrounded by tidal mudflats and eelgrass beds.  Graveyard Spit is closed to the public and set aside as a research natural area because of its unique vegetation.  There are also two tidal ponds.
Dungeness Spit and Tidal Ponds
Dungeness Spit is one of only a few such geological formations in the world. During high tides it is sometimes only 50 feet wide.  The Refuge has about fifteen miles of undisturbed sandy beach.  At the East end of Dungeness Spit is the New Dungeness Lighthouse (more about the Lighthouse later).

The Spit was formed 10-20 thousand years ago.  The easterly flowing long shore current causes an eastward drift of material which provides the sand and rocks that form and maintain the sand spit.  The east end of the spit grows at a rate of about 15 feet a year.

Daily entry fee is $3 per 4 adults and all the usual passes are good here.
Fee station.
Kiosk at the entry station with interpretive displays.  Manned by local volunteers.

The woodland trail leads from the parking lot to two lookout platforms over Dungeness Spit.
Trail to Spit.
One of the lookout decks.
There is a lot of interesting driftwood that comes in with the tide.
Lots of driftwood.

This refuge is part of the Washington Maritime National Wildlife Refuge Complex which also includes Protection Island, San Juan Islands and a few other islands in the Washington Islands National Wildlife Refuges.
More than 250 species of birds, 41 species of land mammals, and eight species of marine mammals have been recorded in the refuge.

We’ve seen Harbor Seals right off the beach.

Brant are one of the refuge's most important inhabitants as it depends on the refuge's eelgrass for its survival. The Brant is a true sea goose and is able to drink salt water and eat saltwater plants.

Approximately 1,500 Brant spend the winter in the area. In March, during migration, the number of Brant increases to a peak of up to 8,000 birds in late April.

We’ve been here a couple of weeks and have been given a couple of projects but certainly not enough to keep us busy.  I’m sure as Spring/Summer progresses things will pick up.

There is so much to say about this wonderful place it’s hard to know where to start!  This will give you a little information about the Refuge itself.  Despite the weather we’re out birding and exploring every day.  We’ll keep blogging!