Bird Watching Cruise Report – June 8, 2013

Osprey Pair

It is now late spring, and the resident birds of the Salish Sea are primarily focused on one activity now: nesting.  Glaucous-winged Gulls have decorated many of the smaller islands and rocks with their twiggy cups.  Pelagic Cormorants cram their nests into the narrowest of crannies and crevices on steep and inaccessible (to those lacking wings) cliffsides.  Pigeon Guillemots most frequently nest in burrows, with both parents taking turns incubating the eggs.  Their shrill cries are heard around many of the spots we visit on our bird cruise.  Rhinocerous Auklets, one of the most numerous species we encounter, nests in large numbers at just a few locations in Washington State, such as Protection Island.  These birds visit their nests at night, and spend the daytime feeding in the deeper channels throughout the San Juan Islands.  Marbled Murrelets, of which we usually see a few, also return to their nests at dusk, although in their case, their nests are placed high up in old growth timber, often many miles from the coast.

Black Oystercatcher is another nesting resident at this time of year, and we visit several islands with ongoing nesting activity for this charismatic bird.  Harbor Seals don’t build nests, but many have now given birth, and we’ve been finding many dewey-eyed pups at the seals’ favorite hangouts.  But it’s the giant nests of the Bald Eagles that are the most impressive nests seen on the cruise.  We’ve been visiting two active Bald Eagle nests on our cruises – one of which is quite enormous.  Bald Eagles mate for life (which can be several decades long), and add to their nests year after year.  Nests as heavy as two tons have been recorded.  We have also found, on the most recent two cruises, three active Osprey nests.  The Osprey is the fish specialist among raptors, even more so than its larger cousin, the Bald Eagle.  In the Salish Sea area, Ospreys are not as numerous as one might expect, given the abundance of favorable habitat, and this is probably due to the robust presence of our Eagles.

Soon, within not too many weeks, all of this nesting activity will produce its fine crop of juveniles, and we will enjoy watching the antics of the young who will swell the bird populations quite noticeably.  We can look forward to fuzzy Oystercatchers awkwardly taking their first steps away from the nest on wobbly legs, and to Eagles and Ospreys delivering dripping fresh fish to their begging offspring, just in time for the warmer days of summer.