[Tweeters] Recent boat trip in the Salish Sea

B Boekelheide bboek at olympus.net
Tue Sep 29 11:12:29 PDT 2015

Hello, Tweets,

Last week I went along on a 3-day cruise from Port Townsend through the San Juan Islands (9/22-24/15), with Puget Sound Express. Here are a few highlights:

1. Like we’ve seen in past years, there are thousands of Common Murres this fall in the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca, Admiralty Inlet, and around the San Juan Islands. There were lots of murre fathers and chicks, with chicks singing their chipper begging calls. Curiously, away from feeding flocks we saw many groups of three murres swimming together, looking like two adults and one growing chick, making me wonder if maybe the female joins her mate and chick at some point. Of course I have no way of proving it, but it is curious. Or maybe males that lose chicks join other male-chick pairs? Don’t know. The number of murres we saw likely outnumbers the total number of breeding murres in WA state, suggesting that murres from at least Oregon colonies also swim into the Strait after nesting. They are in heavy wing molt, showing their stubby wings when they flap on the water, and all flightless except for only one lone murre we saw flying.

2. There were several impressive feeding flocks in the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca and among the San Juans. The largest feeding flocks were 1) north of Point Wilson (seen coming and going, maybe 10,000 birds in the flock on 9/24), 2) at the north end of Presidents Channel northwest of Orcas Island, 3) around the north end of Cypress Island in Rosario Strait, and 4) west of Deception Pass. We have consistently seen feeding flocks at each of these sites over the years. The nucleus of the feeding flocks right now are Common Murres, along with California, Heermann’s, and Glaucous-winged Gulls. Other species in flocks included Rhino Auklets, all three cormorants, a few Pacific and Common Loons, Pigeon Gullemots, and Parasitic Jaegers chasing gulls. When we approached the feeding flocks we could see incredibly dense balls of forage fish, possibly herring, where the birds were fishing, along with lots of Harbor Seals and Harbor Porpoises joining in the melee.

3. At the south end of the Swinomish Channel where it enters Skagit Bay (south of La Connor) there is a rocky breakwater on the channel’s east side where cormorants, gulls, and shorebirds roost. On 9/24 we counted 94 Black Oystercatchers roosting there, which I wonder might be one of the largest concentrations of Black Oystercatchers in the Salish Sea. Anyone know of larger roosting sites around? Soon after that we saw another 17 oystercatchers on the east shore of Whidbey Island. We have seen large numbers of BLOY there before, but not as many as this time. The BLOY on the rocks were almost entirely adults, based on bill color — did they have poor nesting success this year?

4. As we entered the north end of Swinomish Channel from Padilla Bay on 9/24, there was a Long-billed Curlew on a sandbar on the west side and a Great Egret on the shoreline on the east side, along with sizable flocks of dabbling ducks, gulls, and about 60 Caspian Terns still here.

5. As typical, Minor Island (west of Whidbey Island in the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca) had an incredible menagerie of birds roosting and swimming nearby, including hundreds of roosting Double-crested and Brandt’s Cormorants; Glaucous-winged, California, and Heermann’s Gulls; 300 Sanderlings with a couple Dunlin mixed in, 150 Black-bellied Plovers, one Brant, and rafts of murres, Pigeon Guillemots, and a few scoters offshore. A Parasitic Jaeger chased Heermann’s Gulls just north of the island.

6. A flock of at least 400 Bonaparte’s Gulls stretched out along the western side of Rosario Strait, delicately feeding along the east shores of Blakely and Orcas Islands.

7. And of course good numbers of Orcas along the west shore of San Juan Island, including at least one new L-pod calf.

Our next three-day cruise to the San Juans is April 12-14, 2016, as part of the Olympic BirdFest, if anyone’s interested.

Bob Boekelheide

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