We set out on Friday to go to Smith Island, the only place in the San Juan Islands that has a nesting colony of tufted puffins. Unfortunately, the weather was too windy to venture out of the protection of the islands. Smith Island is a few miles south of the San Juans in unprotected waters.
Instead we were treated to over an hour of spending time with Bigg’s (formerly known as transient) killer whales. We were able to see a Bigg’s killer whale family known as the T49’s. These killer whales eat marine mammals, and they were actively hunting through the passes between the islands. There were numerous harbor seals on the rocky haul outs with newborn pups, and pregnant females. Harbor porpoise were also observed feeding in the tidal rips.
We made the best of our inner island trip to sight birds, and were well rewarded. We saw numerous pigeon guillemotts and rhinocerous auklets; both of these species are related to the tufted puffins.
Also sighted were:
Bald Eagles and nest
Double crested and Pelagic Cormorants
Great Blue Herons
Glaucous Wing Gulls
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.
We are excited to announce a new series of Bird Watching Cruises aboard the newly-remodeled Salish Sea this summer. On these day cruises you’ll have a chance to view an amazing variety of birds while we cruise through Bellingham Bay, the San Juan Islands, under the Deception Pass bridge, and through the Swinomish Channel. Naturalists on board will talk about the birds we see and answer any questions you might have. Cruises will start on Saturday, May 4th and go through Saturday, August 24th – we hope you’ll join us!