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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Sea Lions, Sea Birds, and More

It's been chilly again the last few days but we had sunshine for today's trip aboard the Western Prince. Our first stop wasn't far after pulling out of the harbor, as we headed over to the Reid Buoy to see the California sea lion that has been hanging out there. This sea lion has a brand mark on his right side, but so far I haven't been able to get a clear look at it. It makes me wonder if it is the same branded California sea lion that was hanging out on this buoy last spring! After checking with the researchers we heard that particular animal was tagged as a 2 or 3 year old near Seattle, and had been re-sighted everywhere from San Miguel Island California to Cascade Head Oregon to the Straight of Georgia in British Columbia. I'll keep trying to get a better look, but my hunch is its the same animal returned to his favorite haul out:

A little further up the channel we ran into a gang of Steller sea lions lolling about together. They would dive down, then every once and a while reappear all together with backs, flippers, and snouts occasionally breaking the surface. There has been a group of about a half-dozen or so Stellers that have been hanging out in this area pretty consistently for the last couple of weeks. It's very cool to see both species of sea lion, especially knowing they will be heading off for the breeding season in the near future.

Next we cruised along Spieden Island where we saw a few Mouflon sheep and two groups of fallow deer. There were also a pair of bald eagles soaring overhead and a couple of harbor seals hauled out on the rocks. Spieden was looking especially beautiful today, as in addition to the green grassy hillside the deciduous trees are a bright spring green. By mid-summer the island will be more golden-brown than green.

We headed across Haro Strait which was glassy calm today, making for great spotting conditions. We saw a few small groups of harbor porpoise here and there, and a single Dall's porpoise off in the distance. Most surprising to me were two small groups of brant, a sea goose that I occasionally see throughout the Pacific Northwest but have never seen in the San Juan Islands before. Right now they are likely heading north towards their breeding grounds on the Arctic tundra.

There were more sea birds to check out at the bird sanctuary on Mandarte Island over on the Canadian side of Haro Strait. Two species of cormorants nest year. Pelagic cormorants, which have white breeding patches on their flanks right now, hang out on the steep cliff faces:

A little further down, double-crested cormorants make their rookery on the more tiered section of the cliff, where they can build their big nests of sticks:

The water was "only" about 50 feet deep here, fairly shallow for this area. That probably makes it a good place to hang out for the bottom-feeding pigeon guillemots. Several dozen of them were floating just offshore, and they make also make their home on these rocky cliffs.

On our way back across Haro Strait we swung north and went by Turn Point Lighthouse, one of the most picturesque points in the islands:

On our way back towards Friday Harbor we saw more seals and another Steller sea lion, as well as some other great sea birds like rhinocerous auklets, also in breeding plumage. One highlight for me was a single Bonaparte's gull in breeding plumage! It's such a great time for bird-watching out on the water right now.

1 comment:

Lancashire and Lakeland Outback Adventure Wildlife Safaris said...

Those pigeon guillemots are very similar to our black guillemots.

PM sent to your gmail re ferry survey - explainatory map attached


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