Tag Archives: San Juan Islands

Five Things I Love About Shaw Island

Sandi Friel - Orcas Island Real Estate brokerPosted by Sandi Friel

I admit: I lived in the San Juans for years before ever having set foot on 7.7-square-mile Shaw Island, the smallest of our ferried islands. My first introductory trip was back in 2011 when I posted a blog about missing the ferry back to Orcas. It was a whirlwind visit that showed me a few Shaw “scenes” but didn’t really give me its flavor.

That changed recently when I was invited to list a property for sale on Shaw. In getting to know the property owners and speaking to a few other residents, I’ve since become more familiar (and enamored) with this quirky island that 240 people call home. Here are a few aspects that now come to mind when I think of Shaw:

  1. Shaw Island General Store

    The tiny General Store at the ferry landing, open May through through September

    It’s quiet. Really quiet. If you really want to get away from it all, Shaw is the place for you. The fact that there are no restaurants, hotels or even a grocery store (except in the summer) keeps residents down to a minimum and tourism almost non-existent. It’s a minimalist lifestyle focused on the necessities and simple pleasures of life.

  2. 303 Copper Hill Lane, Shaw Island

    The quiet life of Shaw Island within reach: This cedar cabin on 5 acres is listed at just $299k. MLS 765069

    Remote yet connected. I’m told that the seclusion is what privacy-craving residents love most about Shaw, yet the close sense of community is also tops on their list. To get an idea of how cohesive and active this island is, visit their community website: http://shawislanders.org/

  3. Fiercely independent Shaw Islanders do their own thing. When the state wanted uniform green metal street signs posted, Shaw said ‘no thank you.’ Instead, Shaw roads are discreetly marked with rustic hand-carved wooden signs.

    Shaw Island School

    The historic Shaw Island school uses a personalized and modern approach to teaching, outfitting its students with laptops and ipads and treating them to hands-on learning and fun field trips. Learn more at http://www.shawislandschool.org/

  4. Over the years, devoted residents have created — and continue to create — unique community hubs to serve the island, Shaw style. From the all-volunteer library and log-cabin museum, to the historic little red school (longest continuing operating school in the state) and the active Community Center, energetic islanders have crafted a robust social fabric on this tiny island.
  5. This gorgeous sandy beach is part of 60-acre Shaw Island County Park, one of the nicest in the San Juans.

    This gorgeous sandy beach is part of 60-acre Shaw Island County Park, one of the nicest in the San Juans.

    The pristine south-facing County beach is a gem. Located on protected Indian Cove, the wide sandy beach leads to shallow waters that warm up enough in the summer for a brisk swim. Last time I visited, a pacific white-sided dolphin was breaching! There are also rustic campsites, so you can enjoy the beach in the moonlight.

If Shaw sounds like the type of getaway lifestyle you’re looking for, contact me! I’d love an excuse to go back over to this special island and show you around.

 

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Baby Boom for the San Juan Islands

Sandi FrielPosted by Sandi Friel

Orca babies, that is! This winter we’ve had three calves born to our resident pods of killer whales. Two of the calves were born to J-Pod, the group that spends the most time around the San Juan Islands. The third baby belongs to L-Pod, the largest of our three pods of Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKW).

Every new addition to our local pods is awesome news, because this population has been in trouble. The Southern Residents were listed under the Endangered Species Act back in 2005, but the population has continued to decline and there haven’t been any surviving calves born since 2012. So these three blushing babies (whale calves are born with a pink hue on their white parts) are most welcome.

Christmas orca calf J50

Newborn J50 with her mom, J16, and big brother, J26. Photo courtesy of Center for Whale Research.

The first calf to show up, J50, was just the Christmas present all our local orca fans were wishing for. This little one was born right around December 25th in the protected waters of East Sound. (You might remember Teri’s post reporting a sighting of the new calf during her Christmas cruise.) Making the present even better for JPod is that J50 (it’s a tough ocean out there, so baby orcas aren’t given their human nicknames until they survive a full winter) is a little girl, and this population needs all the future mommies it can get. J50’s mom is Slick (J16), who is over 40 years old!

There’s definite girl power in orca pods, as our residents live in matriarchal societies. Each pod is made up of smaller matrilineal lines led by a mother, grandmother or, as is the case with Jpod, by a great-grandmother. In J-pod, that’s J2, Granny, the best-known wild whale in the world, who researchers believe is around 104 years old!

killer whale baby J51 and mom J19

Baby J51 alongside mom. Photo courtesy of Center for Whale Research.

The next baby in this recent boom is J51, born early February somewhere in the Straight of Juan de Fuca to 36-year-old Shachi, aka J19. As of this writing, J51 hasn’t rolled over yet to give researchers a look at its belly to be able to tell if it’s a boy or girl.

And just this week, on February 23, a new L-pod calf, L121, was seen off the Oregon coast happily swimming alongside its mom, 20-year-old Calypso (L94).

L121 with mom L94

L121 spotted by NOAA Fisheries this week off of the Columbia River. NOAA’s research ship is in the background.

Three babies within just a few months is a huge deal here. The whales only give birth about once every five years, and out of our current population of 80 (a near record low), there are only a few reproductive-age males, and several of our reproductive-age females had not been having calves. Late in 2014, disaster struck the Southern Residents when Rhapsody, J32, a 20-year-old female just coming into her prime breeding years, died from a problem pregnancy.

In addition to the new calves for the Southern Residents, there has also been a baby spotted with one of the Transient pods of orcas that frequents our local waters. Though it’s tough for casual observers to tell the Residents and Transients apart—they’re all huge black-and-white members of the dolphin family—there are actually marked differences between the two types of orcas.

Orca whale spy hopping off Henry Island

My husband took this lucky “spy hop” shot from our boat last year when we were drifting off Henry Island and the orcas swam up to check us out.

Resident orcas live in much larger groups than Transients—if you’re out on the water and see more than four or five orcas together, you’re almost certainly seeing Residents, who sometimes even form Superpods when J, K and L all get together to socialize. A small group of whales seen around the San Juans could also just be one family of Residents swimming together away from the rest of the pod, but if you see them acting very stealthy then it’s more likely you’re seeing Transients.

The reason the two types of killer whales act and group differently is because they’ve evolved remarkably different cultures. Transients travel in small, stealthy groups because they’re always trying to sneak up on marine mammals like seals. Usually the only time you’ll ever see Transients leaping out of the water and doing celebratory fin slaps and tail lobs is after they’ve had a successful hunt. Fortunately for them, if there’s one animal we have plenty of in the Salish Sea it’s harbor seals, so the Transients have pretty easy hunting.

Chinook salmon

Endangered Chinook salmon, favored fish of our Resident Orcas. Photo NOAA

Our Residents are not so lucky. They’ve evolved to eat fish, and in particular, to specialize in hunting big, fat Chinook salmon. The salmon aren’t as smart as seals, so the Residents are able to talk to each other a lot more (each pod even has its own dialect of orca language). They can also splash around more at the surface because they don’t have to worry about the fish jumping out of the water and climbing up on rocks like seals can. So salmon are easier to hunt, but that’s just the good news. The bad news is that Chinook populations have their own troubles—so much so that they’re also listed as endangered. Each one of our Resident orcas needs to catch between 100-300 pounds of sushi a day just to stay healthy, and every year there are less fish around.

Challenges in finding food is likely the main reason our Southern Resident Killer Whale population hasn’t bounced back. Scientists believe there used to be around 200 Resident orcas frequenting the Salish Sea, but that was before a bunch of them were kidnapped for aquariums. And before that, they were even hunted and considered nuisances known as Devil Fish.

So for our iconic and well-loved group of Resident orcas to suddenly jump in number from 77 to 80 is big news. Seeing wild orcas is one of the many reasons why living in the San Juan Islands is such a special privilege. We’ll all be pulling for these new babies to thrive, since they’re carrying the hope that we’ll continue to have the honor of sharing the Salish Sea with these beautiful and complex creatures for many years to come.

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Happy New Year

By Beth HolmesBeth Holmes, T. Williams Realty

Breathe deep in 2015.

There are so many mental and physical benefits to deep, intentional breathing yet we forget. At any given moment, stop and notice your breath. Likely, you’ll catch yourself taking short, shallow breaths or maybe holding your breath; happens to me all the time. Something as simple as one deep inhale makes such a profound difference for me and I just wanted to share.

Be excellent to everyone and don’t forget to breathe.

Cheers,

Beth

Georgia practicing breath focus

Georgia practicing breath focus

 

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Fall and Winter on Orcas – What’s to love about it?

Sandi Friel - Orcas Island Real Estate brokerBy Sandi Friel

Now that I’ve recovered from my brief mourning over the end of summer, I’ve fully embraced the change in seasons. Just like the moss and licorice ferns burst back into life at the first rains, I find the slower pace renews me and allows me to grow inwardly.

Sandi Friel's moss terrarium

One of my mini moss creations

This is a great time of year for inside projects and creativity, and one of my hobbies is creating moss terrariums. It combines my love of miniatures, moss and designing with CTnature. And it lets me experience a little bit of the outdoors, inside?

There are plenty of other reasons to love this time of year, too. Here’s a list of a 10 that come to mind:

  1. The departure of tourists and part-timers creates a strong camaraderie among year-round islanders. It’s like being a part of an exclusive club and gives a comforting “we’re all in this together” feeling.
  2. Yes the days are shorter, but the nights are longer. If you’re an avid reader and/or Netflix movie hound, this is the time of year you can indulge yourself without guilt.
  3. I’m loath to leave the island when the weather is picture-perfect, but December gives me a great reason to visit mom in Florida.
  4. Soups, stews and other comfort food. I’m trying a new recipe each week.
  5. Planning and prioritizing for next year helps me gain clarity and focus.
  6. Flannel sheets.
  7. Cozy fires in the fireplace.
  8. Hot apple cider, dusted with nutmeg and stirred with a cinnamon stick.
  9. Reconnecting with people who’ve been on your mind.
  10. The glow of indoor colored lights strung around a gray window scene.

What we experience on Orcas in the quiet season is much like the Danish concept of hygge: a sense of comfort, camaraderie, warmth, coziness, well-being and connectedness. It’s nesting at its best, and one of the simple pleasures of living on a small island.

Looking to enjoy the simple life on beautiful Orcas Island?
Contact T Williams Realty – we’ll help you find your way home.

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I’m in Love with a Spiny Lumpsucker

Sandi Friel - Orcas Island Real Estate brokerBy Sandi Friel

And no, that’s not my latest nickname for my husband! I’m smitten with a tiny fish that looks like a living Christmas ornament. This bobble-eyed bottom-dweller is called the Spiny Lumpsucker and it gets my vote for the cutest among the thousands of fascinating critters that call our Salish Sea home.

It’s easy to forget while enjoying our beautiful islands that the majority of San Juan County is below sea level, along with the vast majority of its inhabitants. Here are some of our more colorful and unusual neighbors. Click on any photo to enlarge and start a slideshow:

The underwater world here is so varied because a rich stew of nutrients from both mainland rivers and Pacific ocean waters is stirred and dispersed by strong tidal currents to feed the Salish Sea’s plankton, which in turn supports an incredible diversity of marine life from shrimp to humpback whales.

My husband, a long-time diver with a background in marine science, frequently surveys the area sea-life with researchers from the SeaDoc Society. SeaDoc does serious science to monitor the health of the Salish Sea. Most recently they’ve been examining a die-off of starfish caused, they suspect, by a combination of factors, including a naturally occurring virus.

The Salish Sea includes Puget Sound, Georgia Strait and Juan de Fuca Strait, and it washes along the shores of Seattle, Vancouver, Victoria, Tacoma and Bellingham as well as the San Juan and Gulf Islands. That’s a lot of people, and one thing we all need to be conscious about – both out here in the islands and along the mainland coast – is controlling stormwater runoff, which is the leading cause of pollution in Puget Sound.

We can all do our part, from picking up pet waste, fixing oil leaks, repairing failing septic systems, curtailing use of fertilizers, keeping culverts clear, and using Low Impact Development (LID) techniques such as rain gardens when developing new homesites. San Juan County Public Works even has a new website where you can identify any stormwater issues you notice along the roadside.

Stormwater management is not a sexy topic, but understanding the downstream impact to our undersea neighbors helps us to act. Just remember the Spiny Lumpsuckers out there, Orca whales or whatever critter melts your heart. They’re depending on us to keep our shared ecosystem intact.

 Note: Simply Orcas Blog is moving to a new home at http://www.twilliamsrealty.com. Follow us by signing up at the new site!

 

 

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The Many Moods of “White Rock”


SandiGravatarSM CROPPEDPosted by Sandi

You’ve read our posts about Indian Island, the curious tiny island in Fishing Bay, Eastsound. Well there’s another tiny island off the west coast of Orcas Island that I’m curious about: White Rock.

Located halfway between Flattop Island and Waldron Island, White Rock is just one of 172 islands in the San Juan archipelago. But I happen to look out upon it every day. And therein lies its magic: Depending on time and type of day and season, it takes on a completely different mood. Take a look:

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When we first got a boat a few years ago, one of my first requests was a closer investigation of this magical rock, actually the tip of an ancient submerged mountain.

Nautical chart of White Rock, Orcas Island

The red arrow is pointing to White Rock, southwest of Disney Point on Waldron Island. Part of the San Juan Islands National Wildlife Refuge, boaters need to stay 200 yards away – no landing ashore.

White Rock, Orcas Island

The Rock is more interesting than I thought — some vegetation and lots of orange stuff — a lichen perhaps?

White Rock, Orcas Island

To give you an idea of scale, note the harbor seal hauled out on rock

Soon we’ll be moving higher up the hill when our house is finished. While I won’t miss our current cramped quarters, I’ll miss gazing upon an ever changing face of White Rock, my trusty friend and focal point through all seasons.

Looking to enjoy the simple life on beautiful Orcas Island?
Contact T Williams Realty – we’ll help you find your way home.

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Feathered Friends have Flocks of Fans on Orcas Island

Posted by Sandi

And I’m not talking about Seahawks fans – although there are plenty of those too.

Orcas Island – and the rest of the San Juan Islands – is home to many bird enthusiasts. There are guided bird walks, Frank Richardson Wildfowl Preserve, and of course we’re a migratory stop on the Pacific Flyway. But I recently found another bird-loving contingent here.

Charlie the African Grey Parrot on Orcas Island

Charlie

About 10 days before Christmas, my neighbor passed away leaving behind ‘Charlie,’ her beloved thirty-something Congo African Grey Parrot. I volunteered to find Charlie a new forever home.

First stop was the Orcas Animal Protection Society  where I was given names of several local parrot owners/experts to contact. All of these ladies gave me excellent info on what criteria to look for in Charlie’s new home. One offered to be foster mom until we found the perfect landing place.

Next I joined the Orcas Island Pets group on Facebook. This interactive page is where you can ask for advice, trade pet supplies, post lost and found pets, and rehome  or adopt a pet.

Charlie the Parrot in his new home on Orcas Island

Charlie gets a new home for Christmas

The grand slam, though, came when I posted on two online Yahoo groups: “Deer Harbor Community Bulletin Board”  and “Westsound Neighbor-to-Neighbor”. I was flooded with emails, phone calls and offers to help. That’s when I found the perfect home for Charlie: Ed and Amy Masters.

Ed and Amy and their two teenage sons live on a 10-acre farm near Westsound. They own Orcas Island Shuttle (our local rental car company) and work from home, so Charlie will have constant attention and activity. Amy has experience with parrots and a close friend that raises parrots. She always wanted an African Grey. They’re prepared to provide a loving home to Charlie for the next 30+ years.

Charlie the Parrot on Orcas Island

Charlie flies to his new mom during Christmas dinner

We delivered Charlie a few days before Christmas to their beautiful 3-story A-frame home, overlooking a large pond with their pet ducks and geese. They also have horses and chickens.

Charlie has now integrated well into the family and they all LOVE him! Each day he responds with revealing more of his intuitive personality and extensive vocabulary. On Christmas Eve, they allowed him to perch outside his cage for the first time, and during dinner he flew to Amy and perched on her arm for the duration of the family meal.

I’m so thrilled at the happy ending to this story. And it was made possible through the amazing community network of caring people we have here on Orcas Island. Thanks Orcas!

Looking to enjoy the simple life on beautiful Orcas Island?
Contact T Williams Realty  – we’ll help you find your way home.

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What’s Up, SeaDoc?

Posted by Sandi

We’re fortunate to have many conservation-oriented organizations in the San Juan Islands dedicated to understanding, preserving and restoring our ecosystems. One of the most important is the SeaDoc Society, based on Orcas Island.

The SeaDoc Society, Orcas IslandSeaDoc sponsors a very cool Marine Science Lecture Series on Orcas in the fall/winter. I’ve been to many of these and highly recommend them. Get there early as they’re usually packed! It starts with cookies and refreshments, followed by a slide presentation with a scientist, then Q&A. It’s a fun educational event for all ages. Click here for the schedule. The next one is December 11th and focuses on potential local impacts of Climate Change.

SeaDoc is now posting videos of these informative presentations on their website. The October lecture was fascinating and one well worth watching: Indirect Effects of Humans on Native Species and Ecosystems.

Black-Tailed Deer on Orcas Island

Foxglove and Daisies, both non-natives, thrive here because they’re not on the deer diet.

The biggest takeaway for me was that our deer population, which is 10 times larger than it was when we had apex predators on the island, is responsible for large declines in native plant variety and therefore songbirds — two of my loves. Professor Peter Arcese, the lecturer from University of British Columbia, says responsible stewardship is the only way to reduce the deer population so that the ecosystem can begin to recover.

Stewardship is a nice word for hunting, which I’ve been adamantly opposed to. However, this lecture really opened my eyes as to the impact of letting the deer population run wild. Our current hunting law, though, permits up to two deer to be “taken” per hunter per year. Venison anyone?

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Explore the “Discovery Garden” in Skagit Valley

Posted by Sandi

I’m tightly anchored to this rock we call Orcas Island – by choice. I love staying in its dreamworld spell and probably only head to the mainland once every few months. When I do, there’s a few favorite spots I like to hit when I’ve got extra time. One is the WSU Discovery Garden on State Road 536 in Mount Vernon.

map of Skagit Valley Display Gardens

The Discovery Garden is part of the WSU Skagit Valley Extension which includes a Research Center and the WWFRF Fruit Garden.

The Discovery Garden is a demonstration garden of the Skagit Valley Master Gardeners. These volunteers have created more than 25 separate gardens for the enjoyment and education of the public. Some of my favorites are the Japanese Garden, Heather Garden, and Native Plant Garden. The garden is open dawn to dusk and there’s something to see anytime of year. Even if you just have 20 minutes to spare, it’s worth a stop. And it’s free!

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The Master Gardener program is an extension of Washington State University. It started in King County in the 1970’s and has now grown to 46 states and four Canadian provinces. The gardeners are trained and certified in the program, and they assist the extension in teaching sound gardening practices to individuals and communities. They hold annual plant sales, monitor insects and diagnose diseased plants brought in by the public.

No matter your gardening interest — fruits, veggies, roses, ornamentals or natives — these devoted volunteers are available to help your garden become a success. So next time you’re headed to or from the San Juan Islands, take a short detour to the Discovery Garden and see their passions in action!

Looking to enjoy the simple life on beautiful Orcas Island?
Contact T Williams Realty  – we’ll help you find your way home.

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Summer Relief: 5 Ways to Chill Out on Orcas Island

Posted by Sandi

Last week while Seattle posted a record high of 93 degrees, the cool Salish Sea surrounding Orcas Island kept us a refreshing 10 to 20 degrees cooler. So if you’re not already on Orcas Island, the first thing to do is just get here! When you’re on island and feeling the heat, try these ways to keep your cool:

Cascade Lake - Moran State Park, Orcas Island

Cascade lake is a popular swimming hole on hot summer days.

Jump in a lake – The best way to cool off is a dip in one of our beautiful lakes in Moran State Park. The most most popular is Cascade Lake— which also has a beach, dock, snack bar and paddle boats for rent, along with coin-operated hot showers. Choose more remote Mountain Lake for a quieter back-to-nature experience. It’s the locals’ favorite hiking spot too.

Cascade Falls - Moran Park, Orcas Island

The falls along Cascade Creek are most impressive in the spring and fall, but a refreshing place to hike in the summer too.

Hike the cool forest – Can’t decide which lake to visit? Take the Cascade Creek trail which connects Mountain Lake to Cascade Lake. You’ll stay cool amidst the old-growth forest and along the way you’ll see 75-foot-high Cascade Falls and can dip your toes in the creek. Remember, like most WA State Parks, Moran Park now requires a Discover Pass — $10 per visit or $30 annual pass.

Judd Cove Preserve trail - Orcas Island

Murphy and me staying cool on Judd Cove trail.

If you’ve got less time to spare, you can visit Judd Cove Preserve just outside of Eastsound. The forested walk is a great way to cool off after the Saturday Farmer’s Market. The trail takes you past a historic Lime Kiln on the way to the shoreline and picturesque cove. The preserve is another success story of the San Juan County Land Bank, which is funded by a 1% tax on real estate sales.

Indian Island, Eastsound - Orcas Island

Be sure to check the tide charts before you hike the sand bar to Indian Island.

Walk a tombolo – The narrow spit of land connecting Eastsound to Indian Island is accessible during low tide. Hit the beach at Eastsound Waterfront Park, take off your shoes (hang on to them if you’re going to the rocky island!) and explore the sandbar. You’ll have the added fun of wildlife watching in Fishing Bay.

Lily Ice Cream Shop - Eastsound, Orcas Island

Alley entrance to Lily’s ice cream shop in Eastsound.

Get a Scoop or Two – The newest place in town to get ice cream is Lily, downstairs from Allium restaurant on the Eastsound waterfront. Open every day between Memorial Day and Labor Day, Lily serves gourmet hormone-free ice cream from Lopez Island Creamery. Or choose gelato from Enzo’s Italian Caffe, open year round with free wireless internet.

Zip on a line – Okay, this one probably shouldn’t count because it’s open to the public only a few days in the summer, but I couldn’t resist: The longest zip line in the state of Washington is at Orcas Island’s own YMCA Camp Orkila! Climb atop the tallest “building” in San Juan County (68 feet), strap on gear, and catch a breeze while you zoom through the air for 110 feet to the landing pad. Today was, coincidentally, one of the Community Zip days where the event is open to the public for free (appointment required.)

If you can add to this list of ideas, please post a comment!

Looking to enjoy the simple life on beautiful Orcas Island?
Contact T Williams Realty  – we’ll help you find your way home.

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