[Tweeters] Alcids and Fish in Port Townsend

Jeff Gibson gibsondesign at msn.com
Wed Dec 7 20:57:50 PST 2016

Well, it was a clear and cold fall day here in Port Townsend, bringing the first frost to my part of town.

After doing errands around town, I was feeling lucky, and it was calm out, so I bopped down to the pier at the Marine Science Center at Fort Worden to see what I could see, and really did luck out.

First thing I noted, walking out on the pier, were a few small fish, and then a lot of small fish over the eelgrass beds (that are snoozing for the winter). More and more small fish in swirling schools. This late in the season the lighting is tricky for fish watching- but some low-angle December sunbeams were lighting up the calm water under and around the pier for some clear fish sightings.

Most of the fish were probably Herring, or possibly Sardines, or something similar: slender and shining silver when they turned side up swimming around. Fish ID through binoculars is a challenging pastime, but I keep trying. This past July, I "discovered" Sablefish here for the first time which I thought was pretty cool. Today I saw them again.

In another exciting example of "paying attention", I noted that some of those "herring" weren't herring at all, but small Sablefish, of roughly the same 5 to 6 inch length. A few things stood out about the Sablefish; first of all the larger pectoral fins were a standout; then the the slight brownish tint to the fish, and the more cylindrical shape of the body, unlike the green backed, silver-sided, narrow-bodied herring. These are things visible through 8x binoculars from 10 ft away or so.

Looking straight down below me, without binoculars, I noted these young Sablefish moved noticeably slower than the zippy herring, and were clustered together, slowly flapping their pectoral fins- all ways to notice a small type of fish easily overlooked. The adult Sablefish is marketed as "Black Cod" and is a prized catch - I saw some in a market priced at around 22 bucks a pound.

Two River Otters hauled up on the nearby float would no doubt love to eat some Sablefish. They were busy grooming each other in a spot of low sun. Some Mew Gulls were splashing down on the calm water going for the herring. An idyllic scene.

Back up on the pier, a slight breeze coming from Canada, helped me get colder as I leaned over the rail for great looks at a bright winter Marbled Murrelet. Then in the shadows of the pier a Common Murre right below me allowed very close looks. It repeatedly dove and surfaced in the clear water so I could see that neat way that alcids swim with their wings.

I felt lucky seeing those Sablefish again, but then I got really lucky and finally saw a new bird! Yes folks, for decades I have managed to avoid seeing any Ancient Murrelets anywhere. But today saw two, quite clearly, off the end of the pier. Yay!

Jeff Gibson

piering about in

Port Townsend Wa

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