Birding in the San Juan Islands

"The San Juan Islands are an absolutely beautiful place to watch birds"

Hello my name is Carl Silvernail and I live on Orcas Island in the San Juan Islands of Washington state. The San Juan Islands are an absolutely beautiful place to watch birds. Regardless of your birdwatching skills the San Juan Islands have something to offer you. There are over 290 species of birds observed in the islands and we have lots of avian events during the year. The San Juan Islands lie in the Pacific coast flyaway which extends from Alaska all the way down to South America.

Wood Ducks on Orcas Island

A family of Wood Ducks. Photo: Kangaroo House Bed and Breakfast.

All through the year, Winter, Spring, Summer, and fall there are a variety of wonderful birds that pass through the San Juan Islands. This is what makes the San Juan Islands so appealing for birds and bird watchers. The San Juan Islands are in the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains which means that the temperature in the climate are very mild... not too cool and not too hot.

A Barred Owl on Orcas Island.

A Barred Owl. Photo: Kangaroo House Bed and Breakfast.

The other thing that makes the San Juan's particularly attractive is the variety of bird habitats here. It is related to the food sources for the birds as well as the climate. There are beautiful grounds for watching birds and there are beautiful habitats. For example there is the open saltwater habitat... there is no other kind of habitat that offers such a volume of diversity at her life. You can watch the birds from various points on land on San Juan Island particularly Limekiln State Park and on Orcas Island but throughout the islands there are rocky shorelines which are another major habitat for birds. As a result of being formed by glaciers the San Juan's have few sandy beaches and many rocky shorelines. The beaches and mud flats that we do have become habitats for oysters and clams which draws in a huge number of words such as pelagic birds, double chested cormorants, oyster catchers and more.

Turkey Vultures on Orcas Island

Turkey Vultures. Photo: Blue Heron Bed and Breakfast .

It is a virtual smorgasbord for these birds in these rocky shoreline conditions. In other shoreline condition that is beautiful for birdwatching and offers an awful lot of diversity are the gravelly shorelines found particularly on Lopez Island and Agate beach on Orcas Island at the obstruction pass kayakers park. Beautiful washed gravel shorelines with mud flats and salt marsh. We also have freshwater lakes throughout the islands like the lake I live on... Otters Pond which is inhabited by otters but it also has a huge amount of migrating ducks that come in spring particularly.

In the winter time we get Trumpeter Swans in from Alaska and throughout the year we have Bald Eagles as well as the occasional Golden Eagle. This week we were watching all kinds of kingfishers and ospreys fishing in the pond... it was a fabulous sight. Another habitat that the islands feature is the farmland and rich pasture land that is inhabited by species such as the Common Raven, Cowbirds, Redwing Blackbirds, and all kinds of autumn flocks. All of these habitats including the open woodlands, dried coniferous forests, and wet conifer forests are all habitats for birds.

 A bald eagle on Orcas Island

A Bald Eagle. Photo: Kangaroo House Bed and Breakfast.

On the Otters Pond the Redwing Blackbird is the predominant bird for most of the year although it is decreasing in dominance due to the continued loss of wetlands. We still have a number left because they are now protected here in the islands. Birdwatching in the islands can be done from a variety of settings. Bird watching from the Washington State ferry system that goes from Anacortes all throughout the islands is a great way to view the salt water and rocky shoreline habitat. The Cascadia kayak trail comes up through the San Juan Islands and gives kayakers an unusual opportunity to see birds from a totally different perspective. In the San Juan Islands there are a number of hiking trails particularly the ones in Moran State Park that offer venues through mountain lakes and streams and interior woodlands. There are wonderful hiking opportunities along the shorelines as well.

I am signing off now, I am Carl Silvernail and I have Otters Pond bed and breakfast on Orcas Island and we live in a beautiful protected wetland with a wonderful opportunity to watch birds. Don't forget to check out our FaceBook gallery of Birds Liking Otters Pond Bed and Breakfast.

The San Juan Islands Audubon Society organizes monthly bird walks throughout the San Juan Islands and publishes a newsletter several times per year. A list of feeder birds ( bird species that will take food from artificially constructed feeders ) in the San Juan Islands can be found here.

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