[Tweeters] what are good birding areas in the San Juans?

Mike Wagenbach wagen at uw.edu
Thu Sep 9 09:02:13 PDT 2021

I'm not a great authority, but I've kayaked extensively around the San
Juans. The south side of Lopez is good. I've seen pretty much all the
local inshore alcids there, although I think I've seen a puffin there only
once. This time last year I did a long loop
https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/5479889356 and saw a good
number of Marbled Murrelets there (and also in the channel between Waldron
and Orcas). Castle Island is worth a look: I've seen Peregrine Falcons on
the south cliff once or twice, and if you get in close you may see white
plumose anemones below the surface. Swirl Island usually has
Oystercatchers, and if you can get there on a good minus tide (best in
late-spring or early-summer) and go right up to the south side in a kayak
or rowboat, the intertidal is great for non-bird interest (various kelps,
pink coralline algae, eelgrass, all three species of sea urchin, sea
cucumbers, starfish, and a variety of molluscs; it's my favorite marine
shoreline in the entire state).

Cattle Pass attracts birds to the eddylines in its current. Currents above
about 3 knots get a bit spicy, but only the smallest of boats really need
to worry, I hope. Check out Secar Rk and Hall Isl as you approach from the
south. Mummy Rocks is similar to Swirl but not as impressive an
intertidal zone. Whale Rocks have sea lions reliably. Goose Isl in the
middle of the pass is usually thick with gulls and cormorants.

There is an extensive tide rip on the ebb between Bird Rocks and the
Rosario Strait traffic lanes, south of Belle Rock Light. The turbulence
fades gradually as you go south, but it's still a bit choppy most of the
way to Point Colville. That whole area seems to attract Rhino Auklets.
Bird Rocks themselves have a lot of birds, hence the name.

Don't bother with Haro Strait. I paddled across there from San Juan County
Park to Chatham Islands this summer and saw few birds. Maybe I just had an
unlucky day?

Turn Island is worth a stop at a mooring buoy. It's small but nice, with
old growth. Harlequin Ducks are pretty reliable there outside of breeding
season. Jones Island is also nice (at least the western half that was
never logged) and has a dock, but I can't promise Harlequins there, just
forest birds. Both of these islands are state parks and busy with campers
on summer weekends. Weekdays during spring might be best.

Good boating and birding,
Mike Wagenbach
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