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Monday, November 29, 2010

Thanksgiving Weekend ~ Birding on the Oregon Coast

I had a great holiday weekend with the family at the Oregon Coast. The coast is beautiful any time of year, and it seems like regardless of when you go you'll end up experiencing all four seasons. This trip was no exception. When we left, the temperatures were still below freezing in Portland and the roads were icy going over the coast range. (We saw some elk crossing the road just as we were reaching the coast that night!) While there we also got rain, sun, hail, and wind. We all had a great time playing board games, watching college football, and eating great food, and I enjoyed playing with my four year old niece and newborn nephew. My dad and I also had some time to get some good birding in.

On the morning of Thanksgiving we went from Cannon Beach, where we were staying, over to Seaside to check out an area that's known as "the cove". Great birds are often reported there and I've seen some there myself on previous visits. This time there were lots of gulls (western, glaucous-winged, and ring-billed), and also a big flock of black turnstones and surfbirds (year bird 224). 


They weren't at all skittish, and most remained resting while we approached to take some pictures. They looked a bit comical standing on one leg, trying to stay warm in the morning chill. The turnstones are the black ones, and surfbirds are gray:


Here is one of the western gulls. I'm still learning about gull identification as I go along, but my understanding is the mantle on western gulls is much lighter further to the north. Down in California they would appear more like in the field guides with a darker back.
 Someone saw that we were interested in birds and came over and told us about a female painted bunting that had been hanging out nearby. He hadn't seen it in a few days, but we decided to go over and take a look anyway since we were so close. There was no sign of the bunting, but there was a lot of bird activity at the site, where we saw dark-eyed juncos, golden-crowned sparrows, and a Bewick's wren, northern flicker, downy woodpecker, and spotted towhee:


It's amazing to me that Anna's hummingbirds overwinter in the Pacific Northwest. I'm not quite sure how they manage to find enough food and survive the freezing temperatures, even though I did hear about a few considerate birdwatchers that rigged up electrical wire to keep their hummingbird feeders from freezing during this last cold spell. This female Anna's found some winter blossoms right outside the windows of the cabin we were staying in:


When there were breaks in the weather we could take some walks on the beach near Haystack Rock. I was amazed on our first walk to see about twenty dead sea birds within a stretch of a few hundred yards. I was equally amazed to come back out the next day and see only two of them remained - the rest had been swept out to sea by the last tide. It left me wondering just what we would find on the COASST survey of my dad's beach near Netarts the next day. Last year, November was the record high survey when we found 11 birds.

Sunset near "The Needles", the two rocks near Haystack Rock.

The next day it was raining on our hour long drive down to Netarts, and it stopped just as we arrived. It took us a little over two hours to survey the beach, even though the tide was fairly high so the beach was narrower than during some of our other surveys. In total we ended up finding a record (for us) thirteen birds, including six northern fulmars, two rhinoceros auklets, two common murres, two gulls, and one unknown (just a wing remained). It's always interesting to me since I have yet to find any birds on my survey beach on San Juan Island, since far more birds wash up on the outer coast than in inland waters. Here is one of the dark morph northern fulmars we found:


We saw the next storm cell moving in as we were measuring our last couple of birds, and sure enough the first rain drops hit the windshield *just* as we were stepping back into the car. It was another major downpour, but it was short-lived, and by the time we were passing Tillamook Bay after a stop for a beverage and a snack the sun was shining again and a bright rainbow could be seen over the bay:


It was already getting late in the afternoon and with limited daylight we had to just head back to the cabin without doing too much birding. There were still several possible year birds to be found on the coast, though, so we decided to drive home yesterday the longer way by going through Tillamook again and taking some time to bird in hopes of finding a Brandt's cormorant, Thayer's gull, or ruddy turnstone for the year list. We saw double-crested and pelagic cormorants, common goldeneye, bald eagles, ruddy ducks, and scaup, but no year birds as we approached Tillamook. We decided to go for one more birding stop on the Tillamook Spit before heading inland and it turned out to be a great decision. As we were driving out the Spit we were very surprised when my mom spotted a pair of red phalaropes (225) feeding right along the shoreline!


It was unexpected to see this mostly pelagic species right along Tillamook Bay, and interestingly enough the only other time I've seen this bird was during Thanksgiving weekend last year when one stopped over for a few days at Westmoreland Park in Portland.

Further out on the spit we stopped to scan a large flock of American wigeon and found a single male Eurasian wigeon in with them. There was also a great egret nearby. On the start of our drive home along the bay we also saw several belted kingfishers and surprisingly a single Bonaparte's gull as well.

It turned out to be a great weekend, and bird-wise I ended up seeing 49 species in all. Next up, it's time to head back to San Juan Island, which thankfully has thawed out from the early winter snow they experienced while we were gone!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Snow!.....Bunting!

While the San Juan Islands have been dwelling in sub-freezing temperatures for the last several days, we were surprised here in Portland with a dusting of snow late last night. After the snow fell, the clouds cleared and the temperatures dropped so this morning we woke up to blue skies, sunshine, and snow on the ground. Along with an e-mail report of a snow bunting sighted at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, it didn't take much convincing to get me out the door and in search of birds!

When we arrived at the start of the auto tour route the first thing we saw was a great blue heron. There were lots of them throughout the refuge, but this one was in hunting mode. While we looked on it caught and swallowed what looked to me like a decent sized rat! Never seen a heron eat a rodent before. In a nearby field were a couple of great egrets, and the first ponds had a mix of mallards, northern shovelers, bufflehead, and pied-billed grebes. Here is another of the herons (not the one that got the rat):


More waterfowl species were seen in the next few marshy areas, hanging out in the middle since the edges were icy and frozen over. I saw just a single gadwall, scaup, and ring-necked duck, and large groups of American coot and northern pintail. There were also a couple sandhill cranes, and lots of tundra swans. Here are some of the first swans I saw flying overhead, before we saw the large flock hanging out on Rest Lake:


The next sighting was not avian but mammalian - a coyote right in the middle of the road as we rounded a bend! I've seen nutria and river otters at the refuge but never any of the larger terrestrial mammals that are occasionally seen there so this was an exciting find. I've read coyotes are on the increase in the Portland-Vancouver metropolitan area, and that seems to be true as I've heard about more sightings from friends and family lately. We saw a second coyote a little later on way off in the distance, but we had a great view of this one as it trotted by:

Near the coyote we saw several red-tailed hawks and northern harriers, the two raptor species that we saw quite a few of throughout the refuge. The only other bird of prey we saw was an American kestrel. As we entered the wooded area past the entrance to the Kiwa Trail we came across a mixed flock of birds that included golden-crowned kinglets and a white-breasted nuthatch, which is a species I'm always excited to see.

The road opens up into marshlands again as you curve around to the other side of Rest Lake and we spotted an American bittern sticking its head up among the grasses. It stayed in view just long enough to capture a couple of photos before it hunkered down and disappeared from sight:


On one side of the road a flock of Canada geese caught my eye. I scanned them and at the far end of the flock I finally spotted a couple greater white-fronted geese (year bird 222)!!! I don't know how this species has eluded me all year, but I'm glad to add it to the list as the first year bird of November. On the other side of the road a flock of cackling geese grazed on the dike, and with the sun shining it was a picturesque view with the swans in the background:


While scanning the lake, another great blue heron flew right by my driver's side window:


By now we were in the region where the snow bunting had been sighted both yesterday and this morning. I was a little dismayed as I started to look across the fields, which were dotted with hundreds of small piles of snow that would surely camouflage a little white snow bunting. My fear of missing the bird didn't last long, though, because a couple of cars were already stopped in front of us with windows open and cameras ready, and sure enough they had already found the bird for us. It still took me a moment to spot it because amazingly enough it was right in the road just a couple of yards from the cars! As soon as I saw it was unmistakably a snow bunting (NA life bird 339, year bird 223). I patiently waited for the other cars to move on and then pulled forward. By this time the bunting had moved to the grassy edge of the road, and with the snow on the ground and the sun still just peaking through the clouds it made for ideal conditions to get this photo of the bird:


It was the perfect way to cap off what had already been an amazing trip through Ridgefield, one of my all-time favorite places to go birding. I was all smiles all the way home!!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Acorn Woodpeckers and More in Hillsboro

Today I headed out towards Hillsboro to do some birding with my dad.  It was a bit depressing, as I can recall birding the open fields out that way when I was younger, while now they are wall-to-wall condominiums and strip malls. The few green spaces that remain are mostly part of business parks, with "for the private use of xxxxx tenants only" signs posted all over the place. The birds, however, don't pay attention to those signs, and neither do the birdwatchers or other outdoor recreationalists,  particularly on the weekends.

Our first stop was Amberglen, where I was hoping to find some greater white-fronted geese, a species that continues to elude me for my year list. It was in this business park that I first saw the species, but none were to be seen today. The only geese present were a single Canada goose off by itself, and this large flock of cackling geese:



The ponds were fairly empty, with just a few mallards and some other inbred ducks hanging out. Across the way from the cackling geese were some grazing American wigeon, and also a large flock of gulls. Since there was a welcome break to the rain I tried to study the gulls a little bit closer to see if I could pick out any oddities. The majority of the flock was made up of glaucous-winged gulls:

Glaucous-winged gull

There were also a fair number of adult and immature ring-billed gulls:

Ring-billed gull

Then there were a few of these guys. They look like glaucous-winged gulls except for the fact that they had both red and black marks on their bills. The primaries also seem to be a shade darker. Having both red and black dots on the bill is a field mark for the California gull, but this specimen lacks the yellow legs and black primaries of a California. So, what is it? My conclusion is I think it is a third year glaucous-winged gull. Third cycle glaucous-wings look like adults except they retain a black smudge on the bill, which sometimes looks like a black tip and other times can appear like the black spot seen here. (In fact, upon closer inspection, the glaucous-winged gull in the photo above also has a tiny black dot on its beak.) Let me know if you have any other insights!

Third year glaucous-winged gull?
Thanks to the fact that this Portland bird-watching blog post was featured in The Oregonian the other day, we decided to go look for a colony of acorn woodpeckers near the Hillsboro Public Library  and the Dawson Creek business park that we didn't know about. By the time we arrived, the rain had really started coming down again. Did I mention it was also nearly freezing cold outside? We had a mixture of rain and snow falling on the drive home! Not exactly ideal birding weather but we didn't come all that way to turn back now. So out we went, first to scan the ponds.

There was a little more in the way of duck activity here, with some ring-necked ducks, lesser scaup, bufflehead, and a trio of female ruddy ducks joining the mallards and wigeon. Lots of western scrub-jays flew about, and we came across a mixed flock of blackbirds including red-winged, Brewer's, and European starlings. A couple of robins were seen, as well as a northern flicker. There were quite a few oak trees around, so it took us a little while to locate the right stand where the acorn woodpeckers were hanging out, but we found them!


Four of these clownish-looking birds were at work on the same tree, which was drilled full of holes from top to nearly bottom. Several of the holes were stuffed with acorns, the colony's cache for the coming winter. 


The conditions were far from great for photography, but I wasn't about to pass up my first opportunity to get some pictures of this species. The only other place I have seen them is on the Pacific University campus in Forest Grove, where they hang out much to high in the treetops for any picture-taking opportunities.


By this time we were getting quite cold and wet, so it was time to head back to the car. Since I still hadn't picked up any year birds we decided to try one more stop at Koll Center Wetlands closer to home, in the hopes of seeing some dowitchers. Despite the rain the water level in the wetlands was much lower than usual, which exposed a lot of mud that could be ideal dowitcher territory. Unfortunately, there were none to be seen, but the lake was still pretty active. There were quite a few common mergansers, several small flocks of green-winged teal, and a few American coot. A belted kingfisher perched along the edge, and a great blue heron stood in ankle-deep water, sopping wet from the rain. The highlight was probably this great egret:


Back at home one more good species awaited: a pileated woodpecker on the telephone pole across the street! This is a species we used to see more frequently from my parents' house, and was even a regular visitor to our feeders for a time while I was growing up. After being absent for several years, my parents have just started seeing them again a couple of times in the last week or two. Despite my earlier gloom about urban sprawl, this sighting today was a reminder that some species are still managing to impressively eke out a living right in the middle of metropolitan areas. This also brings to mind the western screech-owl I heard just outside my parents' front door the other night.

So the day concluded with no year birds, but it was still a pretty good outing, especially considering the weather. Any day you manage to see three woodpecker species (northern flicker, acorn woodpecker, pileated woodpecker) is a pretty good day!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Activity at Portland Feeders

Earlier this week I came down to Portland, Oregon to spend some time visiting with family before heading to the Oregon Coast for the Thanksgiving holiday next week. Ever since the morning I left the island all it has done is rain! Rain on the entire drive, rain through the nights, rain through the days! It's been good weather for enjoying things like Powell's Books, but not good weather for getting out and birding. No improvement is in sight - in fact, it is snowing right now on San Juan Island and we've got a chance of snow here on Monday! We'll see what happens.

Today I did take some pictures of a couple of species that enjoy my parents' bird feeders in Portland that I don't get to see on the Island. Here's one of my favorite birds, the Steller's jay. These guys are skittish and the pair that was around today wasn't too cooperative with the camera, so I'll see if I can't do better in the next couple of days, but this is the best photo from today:


The main visitors are the very plump local squirrels:


I've also seen red-breasted nuthatches and dark-eyed juncos, both species that visit my houseboat feeder, and black-capped chickadees, closely related to the chestnut-backed chickadees I regularly see. The other highlight this morning was a varied thrush pulling insects out of the leaf litter in the front yard.

Hopefully I'll get some more photos at the feeders this weekend if nothing else, but I'll be out at the coast rain or shine (or snow!) so there will hopefully be pictures from that, too!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Whittier Water Droplets

It has been a gray, rainy couple of days here on San Juan Island. Since I haven't been out taking pictures much recently (the urge to hibernate has been strong), I thought this was an appropriate time to share a few pictures I never had a chance to post from Alaska. These are from the day we spent in the small town of Whittier, waiting to catch the ferry that crossed the Gulf of Alaska. It was a drizzly, foggy day there, and there wasn't a lot to do other than hang out by a creek and take photos with my dad's macro lens. These are a few of my favorites....





Friday, November 12, 2010

J33 ~ Keet

Since several people have been wondering about the status of J33 Keet, I thought I would post something here on my blog. 

The Center for Whale Research is the official population census organization for the Southern Resident Killer Whales. They publish official population counts twice a year - once in the middle of the summer and once at the end of the calendar year, based on the last sighting of each pod. It is believed that J33 Keet, a male born in 1996 to J16 Slick, is missing, but he has not officially been listed as missing and probably won't be until the end of the year. Because I defer to the Center for Whale Research for official census information, Keet was not included in my Day of the Dead post earlier this month.

J33 ~ Keet in August 2009
If Keet has passed away, it is indeed a tragic loss. Along with L73 Flash and L74 Saanich that would make him the third young male orca that has passed away this year, which is certainly a cause for concern. I find myself especially shocked and saddened when a J-Pod whale passes away. Not only do I in most cases know them better as a family group because they spend more time in inland waters, but in the time I've known them they've always seemed like the most resilient pod. I've been closely following this population of whales since the year 2000, and in that time the only two J-Pod whales have passed away: newborn calf J43 in 2007 and adult female J11 Blossom in 2008. This means every other J-Pod calf born in the last decade (ten of them) has survived, a remarkable ratio, and only a single adult whale has died.

Let's hope Keet is not in fact missing. If he is, let's hope this year is just an anomaly with the loss of three adult and sub-adult males, and not symptomatic of a greater problem as the loss of all the males in the late 1990s was. Regardless of the reason, Keet will be missed.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Rainy Walk at British Camp

It's been a hibernation kind of week. We've had a variety of weather, though - it's gray and misty and windy out right now, but I've tried to get outside a bit during the chilly sun breaks. During one such afternoon I decided to go for a walk at British Camp, where I hadn't been for a while. The sun was shining on my drive there, but was starting to disappear behind the clouds when I started my walk.

As I approached the Park I saw a pileated woodpecker - very cool! There was a nice mixed flock of birds near the parking lot as there often is: chestnut-backed chickadees, golden-crowned kinglets, red-breasted nuthatches, and brown creepers - all the usual suspects. Garrison Bay was pretty empty. The resident Canada geese were no where in sight, and I didn't see any ducks, scoters, mergansers, or bufflehead like I was hoping.

When I entered the woods on the Bell Point Loop trail there was a little flurry of activity. It turned out to be a large group  American robins, spotted towhees, and varied thrushes. They were spread from the depths of the bushes (towhees) to the tops of the trees (varied thrushes) and it was a congregation of thrushes unlike any I have ever seen before. Pretty cool!

As I moved on I apparently walked right into a storm cell, as I found myself in the middle of a torrential downpour. That hushed up any bird activity and also made it too dark to take many pictures. The only ones I snapped were of this patch of black elfin saddle mushrooms:


By the time I got back to the car after completing the loop hike I was drenched. Of course I drove a mile down the road towards home and the pavement was dry, so I picked the perfect time and place for my hike. Ah well! While it's not the best for birding or photographing, there's something to be said about being out in the woods by yourself during a rain shower. I still felt rejuvenated when I got home.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

A Macro Look at South Beach

After a stormy night last night, today dawned surprisingly calm and sunny. It was a perfect afternoon to go for a long walk at South Beach and play with the new macro lens. It was also a good opportunity to soak up some much-needed Vitamin D, because with last night's "fall back" it is now dark out at 5 PM! Ugh, needless to say, not my favorite day of the year. But at least the sun was out!

Here are some highlights from my photo excursion....

November flowers

Beach rocks through a jellyfish

Water droplet on a blade of grass

Leaflets on a rock

Close-up look at moss

Interesting-looking insect....ID, anyone?

Grass shadows on a rock with lichen growth

Burnt driftwood

Sun shining through beach pea leaves

Friday, November 5, 2010

Marine Naturalist's Gear-Down

Today was the marine naturalist's gear-down hosted by The Whale Museum here in Friday Harbor. Twice a year (the gear-up for the season in the spring, and the gear-down after the season in the fall) they offer a full day of lectures on a variety of informative topics. We also have a Salish Sea Association of Marine Naturalists (SSAMN) meeting at the end of the day.  I gave my half hour introduction on listening to Southern Resident killer whales and figuring out which pod you're hearing, but there were lots of other great talks too. Here are a few of the cool facts I learned today:

  • Being a border region with a complex geography, lots of smuggling has and does occur around the San Juan Islands. In addition to the expected smuggled items like drugs and (during the prohibition) alcohol, some other surprising things have been smuggled locally - like wool. In the 19th century British Columbia was not yet a part of Canada and had to pay a 22 cent/lb tax when they sold wool outside of their territory. Some would smuggle wool to avoid this tax.
  • In 1920, a smuggler could buy a case of whiskey in Canada for $15 and sell it in the US for $175.
  • Antarctic killer whales shift the frequency of their vocalizations to avoid overlapping with leopard seal vocalizations.
  • One of the most common visual cues that a predation event has occurred among Southern Residents is one whale stopping at the surface and waiting for another whale (the one that is catching or has just caught a fish).
  • The SeaDoc Society is conducting a study about the movements of rehabilitated harbor seals compared to those of pups that were weaning in the wild. This study is ongoing right now, but one of the first things that seems apparent when you look at the maps is that pups that were rehabbed and re-released are traveling further than wild weaned pups.
  • Fecal samples from transient killer whales include hair balls (makes sense - they do eat seals and sea lions!).
  • Bowhead whales are the only baleen whale to spends the entire year in Arctic and sub-Arctic waters. They can live to be over 200 years old, and have been seen playing with logs near the Mackenzie River estuary.
Doesn't all this cool info make you want to come to the next gear-up in the spring?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

November Whales

As we get into October, it's typical for the Southern Residents to spend less and less time in the Salish Sea. They shift to spending more time down in Puget Sound, and sightings become even rarer once we reach November. That's why it was very exciting to get word yesterday that whales were being heard on the hydrophones on the west side of San Juan Island! 

The three whales in front are, from left to right, L91 Ballena, new calf L115 (born in August), and mom L47 Marina. L47 has two adult daugthers, but her last four calves have not survived more than a year. Fingers crossed for little L115!
I dropped what I was doing and headed out to the west side and was thrilled to see whales surfacing right off of Land Bank when I got there. I pulled over and walked down the hill in the beautiful November sunshine, and ended up watching the whales for an hour and a half.


The whales weren't in any hurry and were doing a lot of milling and foraging as they slowly made their way north. The first group I saw including L72 Racer, K20 Spock, and J34 Doublestuf, so I knew it was an autumn superpod!

There was a lull in the activity when I saw a big male coming around the corner from the south. I decided to stay to watch him pass, and soon realized he was just the leader of a big group of about 30 whales traveling all together. Too bad there was so much backlighting; IDs were difficult, but the blows sure looked cool lit up by the sun. While they weren't super close to shore, they were close enough that the sound of their blows was amazing.


It sounded like they all ended up going north and stayed far to the north today, so there's a chance of seeing them again sometime in the next few days when they come back south. 

As a side note, this is my 500th blog post! It's only appropriate that I had a whale sighting to share for this milestone post.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Day of the Dead

Today is Dia de los Muertos, a Latin American holiday that celebrates and honors those that have died. I wanted to take a moment today to remember the whales that we lost this year from the Southern Resident Community of killer whales.

K11 ~ Georgia (estimated birth year 1933)
K11 Georgia was the oldest living whale in K-Pod. She was the probable daughter of K7 Lummi, who passed away in 2008 at the estimated age of 98, and the probable mother of K13 Skagit, who has four offspring of her own. I always loved talking about this matriline as a naturalist, because for a while there were five living generations of orcas all traveling together.

Lummi and Georgia were two iconic whales of K-Pod. Both were easy to identify - Lummi with her two notches, and Georgia with her distinct open saddle patches - and they were always together, often in front leading the way. Georgia took on another special role in recent years when she seemingly became the adopted mother to L87 Onyx, who had lost his own mother. Onyx basically switched pods to be with Georgia and her family, and many were and are concerned about how he will adapt after losing another mama figure. (It seems like he may have latched on to J8 Spieden, another older female.)

It seemed like K-Pod kind of "reshuffled" with the loss of their oldest whale Lummi, and it will be interesting to see what changes now that Georgia has passed on as well. The oldest living whale in the pod is now K40 Raggedy, estimated to be 47 years old, and she has always been a bit of a rogue. She and her brother K21 Cappuccino don't always travel with the rest of the pod, and she has never been seen with a calf. Of course we will never know for sure, but it will be interesting to see if any changes happen in terms of socialization or travel patterns with the loss of Georgia.

L73 ~ Flash (born 1986)
Flash was the one whale that more often than not got mistaken for J1 Ruffles. He had a very similar wavy dorsal fin which led to much speculation about who is father likely was. He could be distinguished from Ruffles in part by a notch at the base of his dorsal fin. Flash is also unique in that he is the only Southern Resident to receive a name that had previously been given to another whale. Flash the First was L48, a whale that died at the age of six in 1983.

I took this photo of Flash on May 14th of this year, and he went missing shortly thereafter. It's always sad to lose a whale, but is especially of concern when it is a younger whale in their prime, as Flash should have been at the age of 24. When it is a male whale that is lost, the role of toxins always becomes a question, because unlike females they have no way to offload the bio-accumulated chemicals like DDT, PCBs, and PBDEs, which can all tax the immune system.

Whenever I saw Flash I would look for another big male, L74 Saanich, who also went missing this year. These two males were cousins and seemed to be good buddies. I wonder if the loss of his friend played any role in the deteriorating of Flash's health. Adult males especially seem to be susceptible to not living long after other important whales in their life pass on. He is, however, survived by his mother, L5 Tanya.

L74 ~ Saanich (born 1986)
Saanich, named after a district and peninsula on Vancouver Island, was another adult male that should have been in his prime. He had been living without any immediate family members since his mother  L3 Oriana died in 2002, but had really latched on to L73 Flash and the two were nearly always seen together.

Saanich didn't have any real distinguishing marks, but I always looked for his by his especially broad, butter knife-shape dorsal fin. He had a small indentation near the top of his fin that you could use to pick him out in photographs. 

My favorite encounter with Saanich happened on July 21, 2007, when the above photo was taken. It was a cold, rainy day at Lime Kiln Lighthouse and most of the whales had already gone by. Many of the people watching had decided to leave by then, but a few of us die-hard whale watchers kept standing in the chilly drizzle because there were a couple of whales, including Saanich, milling around a ways offshore. Slowly, slowly, they started zig-zagging their way closer to shore. Eventually they went into the cove just north of the lighthouse, and came back and a forth a few times through the kelp just in front of us. All feelings of discomfort were forgotten during that special encounter, one each witness still remembers clearly to this day. It wasn't until the whales finally moved on that I realized I was drenched and could no longer feel my fingers! My camera had a plastic bag over it to try and protect it from the elements.

I don't know what caused you to lose your life at such a young age, Saanich, but you will certainly be missed.

L114 ~ Unnamed (born 2010)

This last whale is one I never got to meet. It was first reported February 21st of this year by the Center for Whale Research, who saw this new calf with first-time mother L77 Matia. This was exciting news, because Matia's sister L94 Calypso had also had her first calf in October 2009, and all of a sudden the L12 subpod, which had been made up of only adult whales for a long time, had two new members. Unfortunately first born calves especially have a high mortality rate, and it's not believed that this little whale survived more than a couple of days. I can only imagine what it must be like for Matia to watch her sister raising her first calf when she has lost her own.

I can't mention the whales we have lost without also mentioning the whales we have gained. We've had four other calves born in 2010: J47 to J35 Talequah in January, K43 to K12 Sequim in February, L115 to L47 Marina in August, and L116 to L82 Kasatka in October. This makes the current population of the Southern Residents 88, by my count.