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The Daily Bucket is a regular feature of the Backyard Science group.  It is a place to note any observations you have made of the world around you.  Snails, fish, insects, weather, meteorites, climate, birds and/or flowers.  All are worthy additions to the bucket.  Please let us know what is going on around you in a comment.  Include, as close as is comfortable for you, where you are located.
Salish Sea
July 2013
dolphin sparklies
According to Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Pelagic Cormorants (Phalacrocorax pelagicus) construct nests
placed on narrow ledges on high, steep, inaccessible rocky cliffs, facing the sea... The Pelagic Cormorant is among the least gregarious or social of the cormorants, nesting on steep cliffs along rocky and exposed shorelines, either in loose colonies or far from nearest neighbors.
That's true, unless it has an artificial structure available much like a cliff face, with an abundant source of fish nearby, as is the case at the Anacortes ferry dock. The two slips there have ferries coming and going all day long, transporting cars, trucks and people to and from the San Juan Islands, our "road" to the mainland (and tourists to Vancouver Island, in season). Wingwalls (V-shaped structures at the landing) and dolphins (structures unconnected to shore) are positioned in the seabed to guide the ferries into the slips, especially in rough weather and tidal conditions. Over the last 15 years, Washington State Ferries has been gradually replacing the old wooden piling dolphins with steel dolphins, and these have provided lots of nesting spots for the cormorants, as well as places to perch.
dolphin w 20
A month ago when I headed over to the mainland I saw cormorants incubating eggs, like this one. They lay their eggs in May, June and July, incubate them for about a month and then raise the chicks for another month and a half before they fledge.
nesting on egg
Last week when I returned, the nests in and on the dolphins were crowded with nestlings in all stages of development. This spot looked like two nests and sets of chicks, pretty big, but still covered with dark brown fluffy down feathers. A chick on the far nest was being fed as I watched, the parent regurgitating fish.
2 nests, separating
feeding chick
after feeding
Nests are constructed of seaweed and grass, cemented together with their own guano. It is quite stinky around the ferry landing.

More birds and dolphins below the orange seaweed clump.

The new dolphins have openings on the sides separated by ledges. Perfect for nesting, though some of the spaces become a bit crowded as the chicks grow. This nest contains two chicks partially feathered, and a parent.

2 midway, small
And in this nest, the two chicks look entirely feathered, nearly ready to fledge I would think.
2 older in small
2 big chicks, small space 2
In an attempt to restrict nesting and birds flying, WSF has tried covering some of the openings in the reproductive off-season, between November and April, to prevent birds from nesting and "creating a health hazard for employees and travelers". Last year, some cormorants got tangled in the netting and died. Lines have also been attached over the larger spaces, but they don't appear to have kept the cormorants out. Pelagic Cormorants are very slender birds, smaller than our other cormorants. Here are a pair of Pelagics in full breeding plumage, and a side view of one young chick in an active nest.
one youngster panting, lines
It was a hot July day, and birds in full sun were panting, their way to cool down. These several on top of a dolphin are panting heavily, their throats vibrating.
panting silhouette
I saw Glaucous-Winged Gulls nesting on top of the dolphins too. Two spotted babies sit on the concrete.
gull w 2 chicks
This pair was still incubating. One brings his mate a morsel of food, warbling gently, quite unlike the usual shrieking of gulls, then perches nearby while she rearranges the eggs.
2 gulls 1
gull w egg 3












Pelagic Cormorant populations steady or increasing, according to surveys. This spot, Ship Harbor at Fidalgo Island, shallow but in the path of vigorous nutrient-bearing currents, supports abundant small fish and crustaceans. The several hundred cormorants at the dock are constantly diving and coming up with food. However, I didn't see any nests with more than 2 chicks, even though the sources say they lay and raise 3-5  typically. Perhaps the size of the nesting spots restricts family size? Or perhaps predation by gulls and crows, both of which are abundant around the ferry dock, where travelers feed them. I haven't seen that myself, but I'm only observing for a fraction of the time. Cormorants do fly off readily.

nest on top w young chick
It's not often I get to watch wildlife within a few feet, so I often leap out of the car when we are docking or departing Anacortes, to see what the cormorants are doing. And take pictures. Hope I haven't overloaded you with them! It's just fascinating, especially during nesting season. If you ever happen to be in the Pacific Northwest, a ride on a ferry is a wonderful experience, more than just transportation, even for the locals. I haven't even mentioned the whales and eagles and other birds out in the Salish Sea and Puget Sound. Here's my view of the Anacortes dock as the ferry pulls away on a sunny afternoon in July.
dock from distance
It's my watery backyard. Now it's your turn.

What are you observing in nature in your backyard?
How do human activities and structures help or hurt wildlife in your area?

Please drop your nature observations for the day in the comments below.

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"Green Diary Rescue" is Back!

After a hiatus of over 1 1/2 years, Meteor Blades has revived his excellent series.  As MB explained, this weekly diary is a "round-up with excerpts and links... of the hard work so many Kossacks put into bringing matters of environmental concern to the community... I'll be starting out with some commentary of my own on an issue related to the environment, a word I take in its broadest meaning."

"Green Diary Rescue" will be posted every Saturday at 1:00 pm Pacific Time on the Daily Kos front page.  Be sure to recommend and comment in the diary.

Follow-up of the colony, in a comment posted August 5, 2013, with photos, two weeks later.

Originally posted to Backyard Science on Sat Jul 27, 2013 at 05:00 AM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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