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Tuesday, October 31, 2017

October 28-31: An Abundance of Salish Sea Wildlife

The weather this October has just been spectacular, right up through today, the last day of the month. We've had a few windy days and some heavy rain, but the number of clear, sunny days is certainly more than I remember having in recent years. This has provided a lot of opportunity to get out and enjoy this amazing place we live, and in the last few days the wildlife viewing has just been awesome.

On the evening of October 28th, we went out to Lime Kiln for sunset and enjoyed seeing all kinds of bird life passing by over the flat-calm seas.

Great blue heron
Tranquil autumn sunset
On the evening of October 29th, the transient killer whale family the T2Cs were making their way up San Juan Channel. A friend offered to let us hop aboard their boat out of Friday Hrabor, and the result was another memorable sunset!

T2C1 Rocky
When we had a view of Mt. Baker, we got two photo ops of two different cetacean species under the mountain. First, the orcas....

T2C1 Rocky under Mt. Baker
And then a pair of humpbacks passed by heading in the opposite direction!

Humpback whale under Mt. Baker
Then when we were stopped to get our last look before heading back to port, the whales surfaced after a dive right off our bow. 

T2C2 (the whale with scoliosis) and calf T2C4

Calf T2C4

The sunset on our way in

Then on October 30th (my birthday!) we took a hike down at Cattle Point. We came across a harbor seal with a huge salmon.

Nearby was a pair of river otters who were chowing down on forage fish. When one of them caught a larger rockfish, they both came ashore for a bit.

Otter on the upper right has a rockfish

While watching the otters, we also saw some harlequin ducks in perfect lighting.

Then today, the 31st, the sun continued and the waters were calm so we headed out for an afternoon boat trip. We originally thought we might see some sea lions, but they were the only thing we didn't see! We did find several groups of Bonaparte's gulls, which are one of my favorite birds to photograph.

This one has a little shrimp-like creature

A lot of the other winter birds are back too, including bufflehead, red-necked and horned grebes, and surf scoters. But the species that stole the show was a total surprise - the harbor porpoise! Don't get me wrong, I like harbor porpoise just fine, but more often than not they are very difficult to view. You may get just one or two glimpses and then they're gone. The one exception is when you get a large group actively foraging, and today we found just that with more than 100 of them off Green Point on Spieden Island. There were porpoise surfacing in every direction you looked.

We even saw some porpoise porpoising in the distance!

We shut down for a while to listen to their "chuffing" blows, and were rewarded with several close looks.

I've never seen (or photographed) a harbor porpoise swimming straight at me from such close range!

So concludes another beautiful month in the Salish Sea!

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The North Cascades and Methow Valley

Last weekend we decided to take a trip east of here through the North Cascades and into the Methow Valley. We thought we would be enjoying autumn, but it ended up turning into winter! We also thought we would be focusing on birding, but it was the stunning landscapes that ended up stealing the show. Click on these pictures to view them larger, as the small versions don't quite do them justice!

First up was the drive along Highway 20 through North Cascades National Park. Glacial silt makes the color of the river an amazing turquoise!

The rain was falling but the roads were clear, with just a touch of snow at the top of the highest pass.

As we reached the Methow Valley, the sun came out in the late afternoon, and the colors were just amazing every direction you looked.

We hardly saw any birds at all in our first day of travels, but the deer were everywhere, as were the deer hunters. The deer over there as well as our deer on the island are all considered mule deer, but they're very different looking sub-species. The ones on the east side of the Cascades are much larger, more gray than brown, and even their morphology is different - their faces look like those of kangaroos!

On the second day, last Saturday, heavy rain started falling in the morning and turned into heavy snow as the day went on.

Despite the precipitation, the fall colors were spectacular, and really seemed to be at their peak.

Again, we hardly saw any birds, with the best sighting of the day being an American dipper.

By the time we went to bed, about 6-8" of snow had fallen. Overnight it turned to rain again, which compressed things a little bit, but there was still about 4" on the ground when we woke up. We were thankful we had the foresight to park our car at the bottom of the hill our cabin was situated on, or we might not have gotten out at all! It was such a beautiful sight to wake up to, however, though I kept having to remind myself this was October - amazing!

 I kept the camera on me all day and loved how this one turned out, which I took as we were walking down the hill to our car.

We headed into Winthrop for breakfast and afterwards had to take a walk along the Methow River, because the combination of fall colors and freshly fallen snow on an already stunning landscape was just breath-taking.

Back to pick up our things at the cabin, we again parked at the bottom of the hill, and a flock of birds caught our eye. We spent 45 minutes just walking the neighborhood road and finally saw more than a dozen bird species, including these two year birds that were definitely on our "hoped for" list for this trip!

Clark's nutcracker
Pygmy nuthatch
Unfortunately, even though the temperatures were warming, so much snow had fallen in the mountains that the highway we came over on was closed. This meant we had to drive the long way around, which was about twice the distance, but it was a route I had never driven before and the scenery was amazing! We just enjoyed it while driving but there's clearly plenty more new places to explore in Washington that will have to be featured on future blog posts when we get a chance to spend more time there!