Bird Watching Cruise Report – May 25, 2013

Harlequin Ducks were certainly one of the star birds this week, with no fewer than thirty-six spotted at three different sites, far more than we have typically been encountering on our bird cruises, although we have seen at least a few on every trip so far.  The largest concentration was in the vicinity of Chuckanut Rocks, where we “oohed and ahhed” at the several resplendent males, who showed to advantage both in the water and sitting on the rocks, in the company of Pigeon Guillemots, Pelagic Cormorants (now on nests), Surf Scoters, and Black Oystercatchers.  The Salish Sea is one of the best places to observe this uniquely patterned duck with unusual habits.  Harlequin Ducks nest in alpine habitats, preferring fast-flowing mountain rivers and streams, particularly throughout British Columbia, the Yukon, and Alaska – but also high in our own Cascade Mountains.  The rest of the time, they spend feeding close to relatively quiet rocky and gravelly saltwater shores – habitats which abound in our area.  Not all Harlequin Ducks depart for their mountain breeding grounds; a very few do tend to linger around the island throughout the summer, and with luck, we will keep finding them. They are certainly one of the most attractive birds seen on the cruise!

Pelagic Cormorants are nesting on the east side of Guemes Island. This rookery can only be seen from the water. The cormorants nest on rocky bluffs that are inaccessible to predators such as raccoons and other land mammals. However, Bald Eagles can predate on these nests, and when they appear, the cormorants will scatter, leaving the nests unattended and vulnerable.

The Great Blue Herons are seen by the hundreds in the mudflats north of the Swinomish Channel. There is a rookery nearby. These herons nest in large noisy colonies in trees. This colonial lifestyle protects the nests from predators. When not nesting, they are solitary birds. Their life span can be up to twenty years. They feed in the mudflats and marshlands that are abundant with crustaceans and other aquatic animals. (blog by on-board naturalist Victoria)

Great Blue Heron