The amazing October sunshine continues this week, and when I heard there were whales on the west side there was no question I had to find a way to head out there and see what was going on. Just after arriving at Land Bank the first thing I saw was a beautiful, bright butterfly - and one I didn't recognize! As soon as I looked at my field guide later it was obviously a red admiral (Vanessa atalanta), a new species for me.
Walking down the hill towards the water I started scanning, and I saw a huge blow right where I expected to see the orcas - but it was much to big to be an orca blow! It turns out it was a humpback whale! Humpback whales have been returning to inland waters, especially in the fall, in increasing numbers over the last five years or so, but more often they are out in the Strait of Juan de Fuca closer to Victoria, BC and not right in Haro Strait off San Juan Island. Although I could only see one, I heard there were two humpbacks there, and they were right in and among members of L-Pod, who I could also see in the distance.
Unfortunately the orcas started heading south away from me, but as one of the boats with them was leaving to go back to Victoria they suddenly stopped in the middle of the strait - often a clue they saw something. I started scanning with binoculars and saw they had found a third humpback whale just north of Beaumont Shoals. Cool!
There was also a lot of bird activity in the strait. A couple hundred gulls were hanging out near shore, a large flock made up mostly of Heermann's and glaucous-winged gulls with some California gulls mixed in. A little further offshore were couple dozen Pacific loons, their silver heads shimmering in the autumn sunshine. There were single pelagic cormorants, rhinocerous auklets, and common murres here and there, and also group of harlequin ducks feeding in the closest kelp bed. While watching the whales in the distance I saw a bald eagle fly by, and as I was leaving I spotted a red-tailed hawk. Not too shabby!