This summer we have added a new whale watching tour that will go out Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays during July and August. It’s a great chance to see the islands when summer weather is at it’s peek, while having a great chance of seeing whales and other wildlife. The evening is capped with a delicious, freshly prepared lasagna and Caesar salad dinner.
Departing at 4 pm from the Bellingham Cruise Terminal, we’ll cruise into the San Juan Islands, using information from our whale spotting network to find the best locations for viewing whales that evening. You’ll enjoy great views from the outdoor upper deck and along the bow of the boat, enjoying informative and entertaining narration from our captain.
The Salish Sea has ample indoor and outdoor seating, a bar with beer, wine and non-alcoholic beverages available for purchase, and a restroom.
It’s been an amazing period of whale watching – great, sunny weather combined with lots of Orca and Humpback whale sightings. Thanks to former crew member Eric Creitz, who came aboard our August 12th tour and shared these photos with us.
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.)
It was a great day in the San Juans yesterday, lots of warm sunshine and whales. A former employee, Eric, was onboard and took some great photos which you can view on his blog. We’ve included a few of our faves below.
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.
As we move from weekend whale watching tours to daily tours, we’re encourages by all of the great whale sightings we’ve had so far this season, as well as the amazing weather forecast over the next 7-10 days or so. Although there was some light rain today, it’s supposed to warm up into the weekend, with temps in the lower 80s. Now’s a great time to head out to the San Juan Islands on our whale watching tour and beat the summer crowds, while enjoying some great summertime warmth out on the water.
Here are a few photos from some of our recent tours – the first four of which came from from one of our passengers (First four photos below courtesy of Webb Photos).
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.
It was a beautiful, sunny evening last night – what a way to kick off our series of four “Bellingham’s Future Waterfront” tours aboard the Salish Sea. We will have three more this summer – details and information can be found here: http://www.whales.com/Cruises/Waterfront-Tours.aspx
Our Sucia Island Picnic Cruise on Sunday, July 13th was a beautiful sunny day with minus tides. The minus tides allowed us to observe tide pools that would normally be covered in water. There were many crabs, anemones, sea stars and other organisms in the tide pools and on the rocks.
The Sea Stars on the coast from Alaska to Mexico are being decimated from a disease called Sea Star Wasting Syndrome. It is happening on the Atlantic coast, also. Scientists do not know what is causing it and are asking the public to help monitor the health of the sea star population. On our beach walk, an area was paced off and sea stars were counted, measured and photographed. This same area will be used in subsequent beach walks on our Picnic Cruise for the next six weeks. The data collected will go to the Marine Lab at Friday Harbor, San Juan Island. This will them be sent on to Cornell University and the University of Washington.
On Sucia Island is a survey monument that is the spot for the 1st land survey done in 1892. It was for the mineral rights for the Sucia Island Stone Mine. The Chuckanut Sandstone at Sucia Island was quarried in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s and the sandstone blocks were sent to Seattle by barge to create buildings and roads.
A wonderful picnic lunch was enjoyed by all at the picnic pavilion. On the way home, there were a pair of Bald Eagles perched on a rocky bluff that is a National Wildlife Refuge. We have 84 of these refuges in the San Juan Islands. Harbor Porpoise are often seen feeding along the ride rips as we cruise along. On the west shore of Lummi Island we have been watching an eagle’s nest that is nestled in the trees right above the shoreline. It seems at this point that the chicks may have fledged. (Learned to fly!) There were also many harbor seals with their pups. Besides just having a picnic on Sucia Island, wildlife abounds on the trip to and from the islands. The views of the scenery and wildlife are only accessible by boat. Our next Picnic Cruise will be next Sunday on July 20th.