After one of the coldest, wettest winters in recent memory, we've all been more than ready for spring to arrive! I had to send my camera off for some maintenance, so was worried the nice weather, spring migrants, and whales might start to show up while I was unable to document them! As luck would have it, I was down and out with the flu and there were many rainy days while my camera was gone, so I didn't miss much. A few spring migrants did begin to arrive, but Jason let me borrow his camera for our photo year list challenge.
|First rufous hummingbird of the year - photo year bird #130|
Thankfully, my camera returned in time for this weekend, because this morning for the first time in way too long the conditions were right to hop on the boat and see some whales! We met up with the T36s and T46s near Waldron Island and followed them over towards San Juan Channel.
The most impressive whale in the bunch was the huge 14 year old male T46E:
They were in quick travel mode until they reached O'Neal Island in San Juan Channel, when they suddenly fanned out and presumably made a kill, as they started circling and becoming more active at the surface while gulls came down to partake in the feast. Meanwhile, we saw some other boats further south in the channel and soon saw blows - they were with a second group of whales, heading towards us!
What followed was the closest thing to a transient "greeting ceremony" that I've ever seen - the group we were with lined up at the surface, hanging there as the other whales (later determined to be the T99s) approached. The two groups briefly faced each other about 20 yards apart, and then the surface erupted with breaches, cartwheels, dorsal fin slaps, pec slaps, spyhops, and tail slaps. They continued their rambunctious behavior as they started traveling again south down San Juan Channel, and quite frankly, they were behaving more like residents than Ts!
|The two groups merge! Newly arriving whales on the left face off with the whales we were with, who started lots of splashing behaviors|
The dark shoreline of San Juan Island made a perfect back drop for those huge blows!
As the whales continued on towards Friday Harbor, we peeled off and went over to check out the wildlife on Spieden Island. Amazingly, there were about 50 Steller sea lions at Green Point - 35 hauled out and easily another 15 in the water.
|Steller sea lions at Green Point|
We also saw some good bird activity including pigeon guillemots, marbled murrelets, long-tailed ducks, pelagic and double-crested cormorants, harlequin ducks, and rhinoceros auklets.
|Rhinoceros auklet in Spieden Channel|
On the terrestrial side of things, the Mouflon sheep were out in full force on Spieden, and some females had some very young lambs in tow!
That all made for a pretty spectacular day, but late in the afternoon we got word that J-Pod was vocalizing on the Lime Kiln hydrophones. Where did they come from?! After listening to some great vocals we just had to head out there and take a look. From Lime Kiln we spotted about 8 whales several miles offshore milling back and forth. They were too far for photos, but any day you see both resident and transient killer whales is a pretty spectacular day!
J-Pod has been around a fair amount in the last few weeks, not spending a lot of time here but transiting through the islands on a somewhat regular basis. My fingers are crossed that they keep it up and it turns into a whale-filled spring. It has certainly started out on a great note!