The First Signs of Fall

Written & photographed by Phill Green, Yellow Island Land Steward

At last, the frantic pace of summer is over. Once again the islands return to what they are known for, ISLAND TIME. You’ll find many locals in the San Juans expressing the same thoughts and breathing huge sighs of relief. One of the first things I notice is that sailboats are actually sailing. During much of the summer I watch countless sailboats of all sizes motor up and down San Juan Channel. But something about September brings out the true sailors.  

Every Labor Day weekend there is a wooden boat festival in Deer Harbor. A sailboat race around Yellow Island is one of the fun events I get to witness. The following photo is of the leaders passing Yellow this year.

September is also a month of beautiful light. From the colorful sunrises, to the midday fluffy clouds and deep blue water, to the spectacular sunsets, September can be a photographers dream.

September is also a special time for both plants and wildlife. With the return of the fall rains after a usually very dry summers, Yellow along with the other San Juan Islands starts greening up. The mosses and lichens that were bone dry all summer are taking on various hues of green while plants like licorice fern and yarrow are adding their own shades of green as they re-sprout.

In the area of the control burn done on August 28, plant life is already returning as buttercup re-sprouts and fescue starts showing new growth emerging from charred clumps.

In the above photo there is a small pile of crab shells mixed in with the buttercup. Areas of the island that are burned often have many such midden sites. But these are not native American middens; these are where mink have enjoyed a meal of fresh crab. 

The bird life is in transition too. A couple of the early fall arrivals include red-necked grebes and golden-crowned sparrows. Yellow-rumped warblers that nested here are actively foraging in groups of up to eight as they “beef-up” for their migration. Savannah sparrows stop in for the month before moving on. Harlequin ducks can be seen year round but late August, early September is when their numbers start to build and they are seen on a more regular basis. The transition on Yellow is from seeing more land based birds to more marine species. Species already gone until next spring include the rufous hummingbirds and various swallow species.

September weather has a noticeably fall feel to it; the days seems crisper, the breezes cooler, and the occasional rains makes everything seem fresher. I, for one, would enjoy September weather year round. 

Ending with a question: if you don’t know the location, would you be able to tell if a photo was a sunrise or sunset?