We had a great bird watching cruise this past weekend, a trip that took us through the middle of the San Juans, then north to Sucia and Patos Islands. We saw a nice variety of birds, with seals, sea lions and a Humpback whale as well. Thanks to Jim Bachman for his incredible photos from the day!
We had a beautiful sunny day for special bird trip to go see the elusive Tufted Puffins of the San Juan Islands.There is only one nesting colony left in the San Juan Archipelago, although there use to be several. Remote Smith Island, several miles south of San Juan Island has an ever increasing population of tufted puffins. Tufted Puffins are long lived birds: up to 25 years, and they return to the same spot to nest year after year. The monogamous pair raise one chick together. Once that chick has fledged, their job is done. They might linger for awhile while the food supply lasts. They eat small fish. Then they take flight and head out to the open ocean, sometimes 100s of miles offshore.
We had lunch at Smith Island (on the boat) and observed 30+ Tufted Puffins. We also spotted a Long Tail Jaeger, which was a first for many people, and an Ancient Murrelet. Ancient Murrelets are here in the late fall and winter, but not widespread.
Stopping at Bird Rocks, a National Wildlife Refuge, we saw many Brandt Cormorants, black turnstones and surfbirds. A last stop at Chuckanut Rocks revealed a flock of Harlequin Ducks, and Surf Scoters.
Great Blue Heron
Red Tail Hawk
Long Tailed Jaeger
Glaucous Winged Gull
Tufted Puffin 30+
On our final Bird Cruise for the season we went to Smith Island. Smith Island is the only place left in the San Juan Islands where the elusive Tufted Puffins nest and raise their young. It is a remote island and offers the birds an isolated nesting spot. Tufted Puffins usually have the same mate every year and return to the same nesting burrow. Here in the sandstone bluffs of Smith Island they raise their one chick in deep burrows. Both parents take care of the chick and spend their days carrying fish back to the burrow. Within a few short weeks, the chick will leave the nest and start foraging for itself. The thick kelp beds here provide habitat for the small fish eaten by the puffins. By late summer, the puffins will head out to the open ocean where they will spend their winter.
In previous years, Smith Island has always been a place to go and maybe see a couple of puffins. With this nesting colony becoming firmly established, we see puffins on every trip. There were also many other species of birds seen on this trip. There are certain islands where we always see the colorful Harlequin Ducks and Black Oystercatchers. Rhinocerous Auklets, Pigeon Guillemots, Common Murres, and Marbled Murrelets are other Auk species that we see.
(Photo Credit to Jim Bachman). Jim has been coming out with us on nearly every bird cruise for the last three years. (When Jim is on the boat, I don’t even take my camera out of its case) He has always generously shared his beautiful photos with us.)
Species list for this trip:
Great Blue heron
Glaucous Wing Gull
The day was just right for bird watching. Calm seas and sunshine. We went up Hale Passage and crossed Rosario Strait to Sucia Island. Slowly cruising around the Finger Islands through Echo Bay, we saw a Pigeon Guillemot nesting colony here. On the eastern side of the bay, there was a large congregation of Harlequin Ducks. It was one of the largest flocks that many of us had ever seen. Heading north and rounding the northern tip of Patos Island gave us a great view of Mt. Baker with the lighthouse in the foreground. There were many harbor porpoise and harbor seals feeding in the tide rips. One of the harbor porpoise had a very small calf with her. Harbor porpoise are very boat shy, and they do not come close. However, we had a small pod come right next to the boat. We returned home on a different route and saw many different species of birds to add to our list. The nesting colonies that we observed were Pigeon Guillemots, Double Crested and Pelagic Cormorants, and Glaucous Wing Gulls. There was a pair of Black Oystercatchers at the same nesting spot that we observed last year; they tend to not nest in colonies. Last season we were able to watch the chicks from incubation to almost fledging. We saw two Peregrine Falcon nests and a Bald Eagle’s nest. One of the parents was feeding the chicks. One of our passengers was able to add five birds to her Life List.
Great Blue Heron
We participated in the 13th Annual Wings Over Water Northwest Birding Festival in Blaine this year. The festival was originally known as the Brant Festival. Brants are a true “sea goose” and are found in large populations here in the winter. They nest and breed up in the Arctic. Drayton Harbor and Semiahmoo Bay are designated as an Important Birding Area (IBA) along the Pacific Flyway. The incredible varieties of migratory birds here in the winter make an exceptional birding adventure.
We had two trips that were two hours each on the waters of Semiahmoo Bay. These are the species we sighted:
Grebes: Horned, Western, Red Necked and Eared
Scoters: White Wing, Surf, and Black
Long Tail Ducks
Cormorants: Double Crested, Pelagic and Brandts.
Goldeneyes: Common and Barrows
Loons: Red Throated, Common and Pacific
Gulls: Glaucous Wing, Mew, California, Bonaparte and some hybrids.
Our bird cruise last Saturday was clear weather and calm seas. We headed across Bellingham Bay to Viti Rocks, one of 84 National Wildlife Refuges in the San Juan Islands. Glaucous Wing Gulls, Pigeon Guillemots and all three species of Cormorants: Brandt’s, Pelagic and Double Crested. Some of the Pelagic and Double Crested were still nesting. The Brandt’s Cormorants nest on the outer coast, and return to the islands after their chicks have fledged. There were numerous Harbor Seals hauled out on the rocks, and a few Harbor Porpoise were seen surfacing the waters.
Our next stop was another NWR: Bird Rocks. Here we saw more gulls, seals, cormorants and Black Turnstones. There was also a Black Oystercatcher. Our destination was the south end of Lopez Island to see the Auks, also referred to as Alcids. They are in the Family of Alcidae. They are similar to penguins, their counterparts of the southern oceans, but are not related. Yet they have shared characteristics that include wings adapted for underwater propulsion, very dense waterproof plumage and are adapted for diving. One of the main differences is that Auks can fly in the air and underwater. Penguins are flightless in air. Auks fly close to the sea surface with continuous wingbeats and can reach speeds of 35 to 50 miles per hour. Auks forage at sea, sometimes miles from land, yet they must come to land to breed and nest. We sighted Marbled Murrelets, Pigeon Guillemots, Common Murres and Rhinoceros Auklets.
However, our great treat and surprise were two Tufted Puffins. All of these birds are part of the Auk family. So we were able to sight all of the auks that inhabit our waters, with the exception of the Ancient Murrelet. The Ancient Murrelets will arrive later in the summer or early fall and are rarely sighted in the summer. We went into a small cove on Lopez Island to see a Bald Eagle’s nest that we have now been watching for a couple of years. Here there were quite a few Belted Kingfishers and Northern Rough-winged Swallows.
Our return course took us up San Juan Channel and through Obstruction Pass. The scenery on this route is a great way to see all of the major islands in the San Juan Archipelago. On Whale Rocks there were many Steller Sea Lions basking in the sun. These endangered sea lions can reach a weight of 2,000 pounds and 12 feet in length. Â We finished our trip going through Chuckanut Bay, where there were numerous Harlequin Ducks, Gulls, Cormorants and Black Turnstones.
Our species list for this trip:
Glaucous Winged Gull
Violet Green Swallow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Great Blue Heron
Our third bird cruise of the season was to go and see the Tufted Puffins on Smith Island. Smith Island is a 15 acre rocky island that is slowly eroding away because it is in the middle of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. In the winter, the winds and waves can come in from the open Pacific Ocean. A 100 years ago, Smith Island was 100 acres. It is used by the US Coast Guard, with various equipment and navigational aids. It used to have a lighthouse, but that long ago fell off its bluff and into the ocean. No one lives on the island anymore. Smith Island has the only nesting colony left in the San Juan Islands for the elusive Tufted Puffin. Occasional sightings are known of this bird there in the summer, so we set out to see if they might be there. To our surprise we had seven puffins that we sighted. On the island were numerous eagles and nesting pair up in a tower. There were also harbor seals with their pups, one of which was nursing. There were numerous Rhinoceros Auklets in the area in their full breeding plumage. On the way home we heard that our resident J pod Orcas were in the area (killer whales). So we had an great time watching them slowly swim in a resting mode.
Special thanks to Jim Bachman, who took all of the great photos above.
Our next bird cruise will be on Saturday August 2nd.
Our species list follows:
Double Crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Glaucous Winged Gull
Violet Green Swallow
We had bird cruises this month on both Saturday and Sunday. Our Saturday trip was full, so we added a Sunday Cruise. On both days our trips were similar with bird sightings and our route remained identical. We traveled across Bellingham Bay and then turned north into Hale Passage between Lummi Island and the Lummi Nation Reservation. Our destination was for Sucia Island. Sucia is a beautiful state park full of Madrona trees and numerous Pigeon Guillemots. On the way out we observed many harbor porpoise. These are one of the smallest cetaceans in the world and are found in all the temperate northern waters of the world. They travel in small pods, and at this time of year mothers can be seen with their small calves.
Our winter resident birds have all traveled north now, but there were still a couple of surf scoters seen and a common loon was spotted. When we arrived at Sucia, we tied up to a mooring buoy in Echo Bay and turned the engines off to have a wonderful lasagna lunch. The sun was shining and we wanted to have a chance to hear any song birds that might be in the vicinity. We were rewarded with the sweet sounds of a white crowned sparrow and some wrens. We easily saw 100+ Pigeon Guillemots in the bay, and many harbor seals swimming about and hauled out on the rocky shores warming themselves.
After lunch, we headed up to Patos Island. It is another state park and has a beautiful lighthouse on its western point. On Sunday we were rewarded with a sighting of river otters on the east side of Sucia. Contrary to their name, they use marine waters for foraging and create dens along the rocky shores of the islands.
Our trip home we came down the west side of Lummi Island. On Saturday, along the shores of the island there was some kind of deceased marine mammal in the water next to the shoreline. Here we stopped and looked at 13 Bald Eagles taking their turns feeding on the mammal. The mature eagles were chasing off the juveniles who had fledged last year or the year before and were clearly the dominant ones. We also found an eagle’s nest up in the trees.
We cruised through Chuckanut Bay and saw the beautiful Harlequin Ducks, as well as many nesting Pelagic Cormorants and Pigeon Guillemots.
Our species list follows. The exception is that we saw the Common Loon on Sunday and not Saturday. We also did not get to see the Green Heron on Sunday. It is usually spotted at our dock, as there is a nesting pair behind the wastewater treatment plant a little inland from our pier.
Next month we will be travelling to Smith Island, one of the only places left in the San Juan Islands where Tufted Puffins nest.
Canada Goose (with their goslings)
Great Blue Heron
White Crowned Sparrow
Migrants of May (Photos courtesy of Jim Bachman)
What a beautiful day we had two weeks ago out on the Salish Sea. Our travels started out on the South side of Bellingham out of Fairhaven. We crossed Bellingham Bay heading south. Here we encountered dozens of Bonaparteâ€™s gulls in their full breeding plumage. They are winter residents here and are probably now headed to the Arctic and parts of Northern Canada where they will breed and raise their chicks. Of course there were numerous Glaucous Wing Gulls, which are the only gulls who reside here year round. Â There were also many Common Loons , Surf Scoters and Long-tailed Ducks (formerly known as Oldsquaw). Â These birds spend their winters along our coastal regions, but will be heading to northern inland lakes to breed and nest. Some will migrate as far north as the Arctic.
As we headed towards the mudflats of Padilla Bay we saw huge flocks of Brant Geese flying in formations. These are primarily a sea goose and feed on aquatic plants of shallow bays and estuaries.Â The large eelgrass beds here provide food for them for their long journey to the Arctic.
The mudflats at the entrance to the Swinomish Channel afforded us views of hundreds of Great Blue Herons. There is a rookery nearby. Great Blue Herons are solitary creatures, yet congregate in large colonies when it is nesting time.
We had a delightful cruise through the Swinomish Channel and past the small town of La Conner. Since the weather permitted, we were able to go under the Deception Pass Bridge and cross Rosario Strait over to Lopez Island. There is an eagleâ€™s nest on the south end of Lopez that we observed last year on our bird cruises. There was a pair of Bald Eagles there, so they have returned to nest and raise their young at this nesting site. Bald Eagle pairs will return to the same nesting site year after year. Â Eagles will reside year round here, but many of them will migrate in the fall to the Nooksack and Skagit Rivers Â to feed on salmon.Â Some will migrate as far north as the Chilkat River in Southeast Alaska.
The Alcids, such as Marbled Murrelets, Rhinoceros Auklets and Pigeon GuillemotsÂ will never be seen on land. They live their life on the water and come to land only to nest for a few short weeks in the spring in remote areas.
Being out on the water, we saw numerous harbor porpoise. They are the smallest porpoise and inhabit our coastal regions. They are quite numerous here and swim in small pods. They are one of the smallest cetaceans in the world and are found throughout the northern hemisphere in temperate waters.
On the rocky islets throughout the Salish Sea are places where harbor seals haul out.Â There were large congregations of them lounging on the rocks warming up in the sun as we passed by. They are pretty indifferent to boat traffic and we were able to get some good views. Pupping season will start next month and we will be able to see the small pups with their moms.
Next month we will be heading to Sucia and Patos Islands where there are nesting sites for the Pigeon Guillemots. We will also see the other members of the Alcid family, as well as many of these other birds on the species list. There will also be new additions as birds migrate here to spend the summer.
Our next trip is June 7th. We have also added an extra trip on June 8th, since our Saturday trip was sold out. Â Come out with us and help us expand our species list for the summer! The more eyes the better!
Following is a species list of the birds we were able to see on this first bird cruise of the year.
Brantâ€™s Â Sea Goose
Brandtâ€™s Cormorant (1)
White Fronted Goose
Glaucous Wing Gulls
Great Blue Herons
Long â€“tailed Duck
We left the harbor on another wonderful summer day. We cruised to Chuckanut Bay to observe the nesting Pigeon
Here is a list of birds that we have seen so far this season:
Bird Species â€“ 2013 May 4th â€“ August 10th
1) Common Loon (A few on about half of the cruises, more in May)
2) Pacific Loon (3 cruises)
3) Red-throated Loon (May 11)
4) Red-necked Grebe (May 4 and August 3)
5) Western Grebe (May 4 and 25)
6) Brandt’s Cormorant (a few every cruise in May and June)
7) Pelagic Cormorant (large numbers every cruise)
8.) Double-crested Cormorant (moderate to large numbers every cruise)
9) Canada Goose (a few to a few dozen most cruises)
10) Brant (large flocks every cruise in May)
11) Mallard (small numbers most cruises)
12) American Wigeon (May)
13) Green-winged Teal (May 4)
14) Northern Pintail (May; also 4 on June 15)
15) Northern Shoveller (1 on May 18)
16) Gadwall (June 1 and 15)
17) Harlequin Duck (large numbers most cruises; 50+ most trips in June)
18) Surf Scoter (300+ early May; small groups since, not every cruise)
19) White-winged Scoter (a few in May)
20) Black Scoter (1 female on May 18)
21) Bufflehead (3 on May 4)
22) Barrow’s Goldeneye (4 on May 18 near the dock)
23) Long-tailed Duck (2 each on May 4, 11)
24) Common Merganser (4 cruises)
25)Â Greater Scaup (May 4, 11, and 1 female on July 13)
26) Black Turnstone (May 4, then July 20, 27, and August 3 and 10)
27) Ruddy Turnstone (July 20, Bird Rocks)
28) Surfbird (May 4 and 11, then July 20, 27, August 3 and 10)
29) Dunlin (hundreds May 4, a few May 11 and 18)
30) Western Sandpiper (flock on July 13)
31) Spotted Sandpiper (1 to a few on most cruises, in the Swinomish Channel)
32) Black Oystercatcher (every cruise in numbers – 50+ on July 20)
33) Black-bellied Plover (1 on May 11)
24) Killdeer ( a few in the Swinomish Channel, most cruises)
25) Caspian Tern (every cruise – moderate numbers in May, large numbers rest of summer)
26) Glaucous-winged gull (omnipresent)
27) Western Gull (single birds on June 1, 15)
28) California Gull (every cruise but one; much larger numbers July & after)
29) Mew Gull (occasional single birds)
30) Ring-billed Gull (about a third of the cruises, small numbers, 45 on July 13)
31) Bonaparte’s Gull (thousands on May 4; occasional singles otherwise)
32) Heermann’s Gull (1 on June 29, 85+ on July 13, hundreds each cruise since then)
33) Parasitic Jaeger (single adults on May 11 and July 13, Bellingham Bay)
34) Pigeon Guillemot (large numbers every cruise)
35) Rhinocerous Auklet (large numbers every cruise)
36) Common Murre (1 to a few on about half the cruises)
37) Marbled Murrelet (a few to a dozen or two on every cruise; 40+ on May 18)
38) Tufted Puffin (single birds on July 27 and August 3; south Lopez)
39) Great Blue Heron (large numbers every cruise)
40) Green Heron (hanging around dock area; first noted June 8th)
41) Turkey Vulture (a few on most cruises)
42) Bald Eagle (every cruise; high count was 51 on June 8 – three active nests visited throughout season)
43) Osprey (first noted May 11; nest visited from June 1 on)
44) Red-tailed Hawk (1 to a few on most cruises)
45) Cooper’s Hawk (June 22)
46) Northern Harrier (2 on July 27; Swinomish Channel)
47) Peregrine Falcon (imm. on July 20, harassing an Osprey; also August 3)
48) Rock Pigeon (a few every cruise)
49) Mourning Dove (3 cruises, Channel)
50) Eurasian Collared-Dove (a few cruise , Channel)
51) Belted Kingfisher (4-20 every cruise)
52) Rufous Hummingbird (every cruise in May and June at feeders; Swinomish Channel)
53) Anna’s Hummingbird (noted at feeders June 1 and 8, Swinomish Channel)
54) Purple Martin (1 on August 10, Swinomish Channel)
55) Barn Swallow (every cruise)
56) Violet-green Swallow (every cruise)
57) Cliff Swallow (most cruise near highway 20 bridge)
58) N. Rough-winged Swallow (small numbers on most cruises in May and June)
59) Tree Swallow (10 on June 1)
60) Northern Flicker (1 or 2 on some cruises)
61) Pileated Woodpecker (1 flew over channel on June 22)
62) Olive-sided Flycatcher (May 25 and 4 out of 5 cruises in June)
63) Pacific-slope Flycatcher (June 1, 22)
64) Willow Flycatcher (heard on July 27, Swinomish Channel)
65) Crow Spp. (every cruise)
66) Common Raven (noted on a few cruises)
67) Chestnut-backed Chickadee (occasionally noted)
68) Red-breasted Nuthatch (June 29)
69) House Wren (singing Chuckanut Bay June 29)
70) Marsh Wren (occasionallyÂ heard in Swinomish Channel area)
71) Pacific Wren (sometimes heard)
72) Bewicks Wren (June 22)
73) American Robin (a few seen on most cruises)
74) Swainson’s Thrush (heard on June 15, 29)
75) Orange-crowned Warbler (frequently heard, May – mid-July)
76) Yellow Warbler (heard in Swinomish Channel area every trip from May 25 through June 29)
77) Common Yellowthroat (heard in Swinomish Channel on June cruises)
78) Western Tanager (June 1)
79) Black-headed Grosbeak (4 out of 5 cruises in June)
80) Red-winged Blackbird (small numbers most cruises)
81) Brewer’s Blackbird (1 or 2 sometimes in Swinomish Channel area)
82) Brown-headed Cowbird (1 to several most cruises in June)
83) Spotted Towhee (sometimes heard)
84) Oregon (DE) Junco (occasionally heard)
85) Song Sparrow (many heard in May and June, less afterwards)
86) White-crowned Sparrow (many heard in May and June; rarely noted after singing ceased)
87) Savannah Sparrow (usually heard in Swinomish Channel area in May and June, last on July 6)
88) House Finch (a few noted most cruises)
89) Pine Siskin (1 or 2, or small flocks, about half of cruises)
90) American Goldfinch (a few on about half of cruises)
91) House Sparrow (every cruise)
92) Starling aka Air Rat (every cruise)
Also multitudes of Harbor Seals, plenty of Harbor Porpoise, and occasional encounters with California Sea Lion, River Otter, (Transient) Orca, and Minke Whale.