[Tweeters] San Juan Islands cruise

B Boekelheide bboek at olympus.net
Fri Oct 4 13:46:35 PDT 2013

Hello, Tweeters,

Last Sunday through Tuesday, Sept 29-Oct 1, Olympic Peninsula Audubon Society and Puget Sound Express did a three-day cruise from Port Townsend through the San Juan Islands on the Glacier Spirit. We had lots of diversions and side trips, particularly to avoid storm warnings in the Strait of J de F on Sunday, but the weather wasn't too bad, considering.

Interesting birds:
Scoters -- biggest concentration at entrance to San Juan Channel off Cattle Point, 100s of Surf with about 100 White-winged. Scoters were relatively scarce elsewhere.
Pacific Loon -- 100s gathered at major entrances, like off Cattle Point and west of Sucia Island. Nearly all in spectacular alternate plumage.
No. Fulmar -- 3 in eastern Strait of J de F. One about two miles south of Lopez Island in San Juan Co. and two near Minor Island in Island Co. One fulmar was intently picking at a lion's mane jellyfish, letting us approach very closely.
Brown Pelican -- 2 HY birds near Minor Island in Island Co., just hanging out.
Brandt's Cormorants -- 100s in feeding flocks in the Strait of J de F and roosting on offshore rocks on the south side of the San Juans.
Turkey Vulture -- big flight of several large flocks midday on Oct 1, flying SE from the southern tip of Lopez Island toward Whidbey Island. We saw 350 or so make the overwater flight in about 45 min.
Parasitic Jaeger - 4 flying through the islands
Bonaparte's Gulls -- big flocks in two places. One flock of several hundred on the NE side of Cypress Island on 9/29. Another flock of several hundred west of Sucia Island on 9/30. Like snowflakes!
Other gulls -- Heermann's Gulls and California Gulls very abundant and scrapping with Glaucous-winged types in feeding flocks, particularly in the eastern Strait of J de F.
Caspian Tern -- 25 still present in southern Padilla Bay near the northern end of Swinomish Channel.
Common Murre -- 1000s in Haro Strait, west of Sucia Is, and in the Strait of J de F, like near Smith Island and Partridge Bank. Many appear to be father-chick pairs still together -- we heard chicks vocalizing a lot. All were molting or growing flight feathers, so none were able to fly (in the air, anyway).
Swallows -- 100s flying along Swinomish Channel in lousy weather on 9/29, mostly Violet-Green with some Barn. Like everyone else has said, seems very late.

Even though we couldn't get real close to Minor Island (about 4 miles west of Whidbey Is), it had hundreds of shorebirds and gulls (and harbor seals) roosting on it during midday on Oct 1. At least 200+ BBPL, 27 BLOY, 5 MAGO, 15 BLTU, 200+ SAND, and others we couldn't see well enough. Too bad it can't be surveyed more often.

Some other species seemed very scarce compared to other fall trips we've taken. Only 2 Marbled Murrelets and 30 Pigeon Guillemots. Only 16 Bald Eagles sitting on territories. Relatively few Harlequin Ducks and grebes.

Marine mammals were nice, but sometimes hard to find with rough seas. One humpback whale in Boundary Pass, 5 transient Orcas in Haro Strait, and one minke whale in Haro Strait. Very few harbor porpoises, perhaps the least we have seen compared with similar trips. About 100 Steller's sealions on rocks near Cattle Pass. Lots of harbor seals.

Our next three-day San Juan Island cruise will be part of the Olympic BirdFest next April, from Apr 6-8. Join us!

Bob Boekelheide

More information about the Tweeters mailing list