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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Sightings Update (incl. my first orcas of 2011!)

A few sightings to report from the last couple of days here on the island....

There has been a female common merganser hanging around the houseboat, which is cool to see, as previously I had only seen hooded mergansers here in the marina. Yesterday I was able to watch her from the front porch swimming underwater looking for fish:

I thought she saw me quietly sneak outside before she dove, but I guess not, because when she came to the surface with a fish she high-tailed it out of there upon seeing me....whoops:

Also yesterday I made time to do my January COASST survey down at Fourth of July Beach. I was astonished at what the beach looked like. It was a surprisingly low tide, as normally there is only about a third as much room between the driftwood and the water. Additionally, during my last survey in December, the beach was entirely covered in thick seaweed and wrack. The walking was much easier this time:

There weren't any beached birds on the beach, but I did see my first surf scoters (108) of the year out in Griffin Bay. Since I was down on that part of the island anyway, I took a scan at South Beach as well where I found a single red-necked grebe (109) and a group of four red-breasted mergansers (110).

Then this morning I got a tip via Facebook of all places that a small group of Southern Resident Killer Whales were making their way down San Juan Channel. I rushed down to Cattle Pass at the south end of the channel hoping to catch sight of them from shore. For the 45 minutes I was there I didn't see any orcas, but it was a pretty impressive wildlife spectacle. The quick currents in the pass must have made for some good feeding, as there were hundreds of gulls wheeling just above the surface. Also on the water were some surf scoters, harlequin ducks, pelagic and double-crested cormorants, and horned grebes as well a single common loon and a single red-necked grebe. On the rocks I also found half a dozen black oystercatchers (111). Not only that, but I saw a whopping four marine mammal species in the pass as well: a group of about 10 Dall's porpoise, a smaller group of harbor porpoise, and some Steller sea lions and harbor seals. 

By this point I had to leave to go back into town for an appointment, but I was more than satisfied with all I had seen even without the orcas. Still, I pulled over to scan Griffin Bay on my way back north just to check.....and there they were!! It was reportedly about half of J-Pod and a few K-Pod whales that were seen inland a few days ago. They were too far way for me to ID, but it was so great to see them - my first ever orca sighting in the month of January.

Then there was the icing on the cake. As I ran down to the houseboat to pick up what I needed for my meeting, I heard and then saw a Pacific wren (112) along the street, and also saw that the chestnut-backed chickadees (113) had rediscovered my feeders after they were hanging empty for a month.


The K said...

Wow, you're leaving me in the dust! I'm going to have to try to catch up some this weekend so our January numbers are a bit closer.

Also, interesting to see such a low tide on your survey beach. I found a really high tide on my survey beach last week. Almost a bit scary walking back with the waves washing close to the cliff.

Dave Wenning said...

Just a quick note to say there were Snow Geese on Fir Island this morning on the north side of the road. Not a huge flock, but the first I have seen in a couple of weeks.