Bird Watching Cruise Report – July 20, 2013

Glacuous-Winged Gull Chick

Our bird cruise is getting birdier!  As eggs hatch and juveniles fledge, the populations of our typical Salish Sea breeding birds are soaring.  Glacuous-winged Gull chicks, for example, are now numerous at several of the sites we visit – the Glaucous-winged Gull is the only gull that breeds in our area (although several other Gull species are also present although not breeding locally).  The rotund little chick in the photo is from one of the rooftop nests near the Bellingham Cruise Terminal.  The first Pigeon Guillemot Juveniles are appearing on the water as well, although most are still being fed in their burrows by adults carrying silvery fish in their bills.

In addition to the appearance of all these hatchlings, our avian diversity is further augmented now by the return of several shorebird species from their far northern nesting grounds.  Surfbirds were found for the second week in a row, and the first Black Turnstones we’ve seen since May – and no less than 35 of them between two sites.  At Bird Rocks, there was also at least one Ruddy Turnstone.  The aforementioned are rock-loving shorebirds, and we visit a number of sites with appropriate habitat for these “rockpipers”.  Wandering Tattler is another “rockpiper” that can be hoped for, particularly in August.  Spotted Sandpiper is sometimes noted in the Swinomish Channel, and small flocks of Western Sandpipers can be seen in some areas.  Also returning from the north – an Adult Parasitic Jaeger zipping across Bellingham Bay.  Soon to come: Red-necked Phalaropes and more!

The dapper Heermann’s Gulls are back, too.  Unlike most migratory birds, the Heermann’s Gulls breeds far to the south, in the Sea of Cortez, and disperses northward post-breeding.  In the Salish Sea, the Heermann’s Gulls appear in July and remain until late October or early November – a schedule which they do not precisely share with any other species. After seeing our first of the year a few weeks ago, we are already encountering more than a hundred, and can now expect to keep doing so.  Heermann’s Gull is one of the two local gulls of which I am most fond (the other is the Bonaparte’s).  Their red-orange bills and distinct ashy plumage with tail band makes them easier than some gulls to ID, and I also appreciate their oppositional lifestyle.  California Gulls are also present along our route in robust numbers.

We stopped at Deepwater Bay, Cypress Island where there is a fish farm. (Atlantic Salmon). Often we see Harlequin Ducks here as they like to hang around the fish nets. Looking up, an unusual sight caught our eye. There was a juvenile Peregrine Falcon harassing an Osprey. The falcon has far more speed and agility than an Osprey. It was quite an aerial display and continued for several minutes. The falcon had the upper edge! The Osprey appeared to just want to get away.

Another unusual sighting today was a huge pod of Harbor Porpoise. We encountered a large number of these small porpoise as we were crossing Rosario Strait. Normally we wouldn’t stop for these little cetaceans, as they are rather boat shy. But today we stopped to look at the huge numbers of porpoise, and instead of diving, they continued their surface activity. They were obviously intent on feeding and didn’t care that our boat was there. In every direction there were Harbor Porpoise to be seen. These are the smallest cetacean, weighing in about 175 pounds and a length of five to six feet.  We normally only see two to six together, but today there were well over a hundred. There were a couple of females with tiny calves swimming alongside.  The calves stay close to mom and do not venture away until they are a few months old.  We turned our engine off and drifted and observed for about fifteen minutes. None of us had seen a sight like this in the Salish Sea in decades.

Bird List for July 20, 2013. 39 Species.

Pacific Loon: 1

Brandt’s Cormorant; 1

Pelagic Cormorant: 100’s

Double-crested Cormorant: 100+

Canada Goose: 7

Harlequin Duck: 18

Surfbird: 10

Black Turnstone: 35

Ruddy Turnstone: 1

Spotted Sandpiper: 1

Black Oystercatcher: 50+

Caspian Tern: 100’s

Glaucous-winged Gull: omnipresent

California Gull: 100’s

Heermann’s Gull: 100’s

Marbled Murrelet: 18

Rhinocerous Auklet: 100’s

Pigeon Guillemot: 100’s

Common Murre: 3

Great Blue Heron: 100’s

Green Heron; 1

Turkey Vulture: 1

Bald Eagle: 25

Osprey: 2 active nests, plus 1 other bird

Red-tailed Hawk: 1

Peregrine Falcon: 1 Juvenile

Rock Pigeon: 12

Belted Kingfisher: 15

Barn Swallow: 10

Cliff Swallow: 25 near colony

Violet-green Swallow: 35

Crow Spp. 35

American Robin: 2

Song Sparrow: 2

Brewer’s Blackbird: 1

Red-winged Blackbird: 2

Pine Siskin: 35

House Sparrow: 10

Starling: 75