Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Life Among the Wildlife on Lazy Lopez

Transportation, a necessary evil.
Someone told me years ago that people who live on the south end of Lopez Island don't much like the north end.  It's a bit too high-pressure with basic services, lodging and a ferry terminal. 

Same on Whidbey. My wife, Sue, and I live on the south end, and boy, we sure don't like the north end -- the congested traffic, fast food and discount stores. We've been feeling a bit hemmed in lately. 


So yesterday, my birthday-girl wife and I got an urge to explore the north-south divide on sleepy Lopez.  It seemed as far from civilization as we could get in one easy day. And the differences are real.

On north Lopez if you park in the middle of the road to photograph a Kingfisher, another car may come along in a few minutes and need to get around. On south Lopez, you're just happy to see the smoke from a woodstove on a chilly October morning.

Lopez is the third-largest island in the San Juans at 30 square miles, with 2,200 people. Most live in the north. Whidbey is 169 square miles with a population of 58,000 and again, most live in the north.

Sue and Duncan at Spencer Spit.
Our immediate destination was Spencer Spit State Park in the north, where we were the only human life except for a couple on a tandem bike we met as we were leaving, and two workers repairing an old outbuilding.

Trail to Shark Reef
One of the workers apparently sensed our loneliness or was dealing with his own, and came over to point out that Lopez in the off-season could be a bit quiet. "We can handle that," we assured him. "We're from Whidbey."

We enjoyed a Great-blue Heron stalking fish in the glassy shallows and gave our dog, Duncan, a spirited walk, but were really dreaming of a good cup of coffee. So we paid our dues to the hectic city, Lopez Village, before continuing south to a little dot on the map that had intrigued us, Shark Reef County Park.

This was every bit the gem we had hoped it would be. But the road doesn't lead to the water.  It just leads to a parking strip in the woods where you start a 15-minute, forest hike to a rocky bluff overlooking narrow San Juan Channel.

Great-blue Heron landing.
The surprisingly close view is of Cattle Point on the south end of San Juan Island, just across the channel. But the real view is at your feet.

The shore is steep. The birds and mammals are close, and seemingly unconcerned.

Yesterday we watched a Great-blue Heron hunt fish from a floating platform of bull kelp. Gulls and Harlequin Ducks swam among the rocks and kelp.

Nice crab.
One gull carried a small crab in its mouth while others raised an uproar.  Amongst it all, a lone Harbor Seal swam among the birds a few feet from our rock and rarely took its wary eye from us.  At one point the seal surfaced so breathtakingly close it startled me.

Harbor Seal and Gull.
"Holy cow," I exclaimed too loudly. The animal dove instantly.  I could clearly follow its speckled body as it swam north along the steep shore, just a few feet from the rocks, a few feet below the surface and a few feet from us. I've tried photographing Harbor Seals from boats and they always pop below about the time I raise my camera. 

Did I mention we were all alone?  I can't help it; I love places where our species is in the minority.

Hey, if I had a fish I'd toss it to you.

Sunset at Deception Pass, back on Whidbey.


  1. Nice post, Dan. Stunning sunset photo to wrap it all up.

  2. "I can't help it; I love places where our species is in the minority."

    Me too Dan. The one keeps the other bearable. Congratulations on getting the seal photos. You made me want to go back to a place I haven't been in years.

    Uh oh - conundrum, if I go will I be one too many?