[Tweeters] Smith Island birding

Gary Bletsch garybletsch at yahoo.com
Sat Jun 25 22:03:14 PDT 2022

Dear Tweeters,
Today, Saturday the 25th of June, it was my good fortune to take a boat ride out to Smith Island, due west of Whidbey Island. Jeff Borsecnik piloted the Bayliner from Cap Sante Marina all the way around Fidalgo Island and then south, so all I had to do was look at the birds!
We saw lots of Rhinoceros Auklets, but no puffins, although there were a few distant dark alcids that could have been puffins. However, we had wonderful conditions out there, calm and placid waters, so we were able to view thousands of birds on Smith Island and especially on Minor Island just to the east. There were at least a thousand gulls, mostly Glaucous-winged, but quite a few Heermann's and some California Gulls as well. Huge numbers of cormorants, mostly Double-crested, blanketed several stretches of shoreline. The birds of the day came in the form of a flock of at least 50 WHIMBRELS that flew in from the north, wheeled, and landed on Minor Island's northern shore. 
I heard a bird singing from the woodsy little area on Smith Island's eastern shoreline. This bird was singing at the same time that a Song Sparrow was singing. I am pretty sure that it was a VESPER SPARROW, but I won't call it. Smith Island would be a likely spot for the species, since the declining coastal subspecies does still persist on San Juan Island, not far to the north.
One bird escaped identification, to my chagrin. As we were motoring back, a swiftly flying seabird caught Jeff's eye. I was able to determine that it was a SHEARWATER of some kind, but the bird was moving north fast, and we were moving north much more slowly, against a bit of a chop that had sprung up. The bird flew very vast, with quick series of short wingbeats, followed by brief glides, and stayed close to the surface of the water. It was white below and quite dark above. I think it was too white below for it to have been a Sooty Shearwater. It did not seem grey enough to be a Buller's. Not my area of birding expertise. Whatever it was, the bird flew from Island County waters into Skagit County waters, flying right by Rosario Head, before I lost view of it somewhere just north of there.
Oh, to borrow a line from Detective Columbo, there's one more thing. The county lines out by Smith Island are interesting, to say the least. I believe I've seen some checklists from birders on puffin cruises that have given Skagit County as the place. Both Smith and Minor Island are in Island County. The waters about one kilometer west of Smith Island's western shoreline are in Jefferson County. Skagit County is a long way to the north and east. The waters due north of Smith are in San Juan County. It is hard as heck to tick a puffin of any kind in Skagit County!
Yours truly,
Gary Bletsch

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