Fall is Here

By Joe Behnke | Filed in Uncategorized

The shift is here. Birds are arriving from afar, some still with beautiful summer plumage—like common loons and Pacific loons—others, like rhinoceros auklets and pigeon guillemots, already transformed. Horned grebes and red-necked grebes can now be seen along our julietta online casino shorelines. Hooded mergansers have also returned to the saltwater and, Red-breasted’s, too, busily fish Fisherman Bay. Harlequin ducks forage off Iceberg Point. Strings of Brandt’s cormorants fly up and down the strait and rafts of hundreds of common murres sit on the surface. I spotted a lone Cassin’s auklet in San Juan Channel last weekend, far from its usual open ocean waters. Several pairs of marbled murrelets forage in the mouth of MacKaye Harbor, and by the Inn a large group of surf scoters dive in the shallows. Fall is the best time of year to observe seabirds and ducks, so please go out and take a look.

A Lull

By Joe Behnke | Filed in Bird surveys

In May there is a general lull in seabird activity, if you do not count the tens of thousands of rhinoceros auklets moving back into the Salish Sea and the thousands of pelagic cormorants and glaucous-winged gulls roosting on and fishing off of breeding rocks in the archipelago; most of the ducks, mergansers, grebes, shorebirds, loons and bufflheads have headed north and California and Heermann’s gulls have not yet arrived. From the cliffs of Iceberg Point, Saturday, rhinoceros auklets could be seen here and there a mile out, but hundreds formed lines in the waters off of Richardson. Three Pacific loons dove near the point with their white summer caps and several pelagic cormorants did the same.  A couple of male harlequin ducks foraged along the kelp and black oystercatchers skipped along islets gorging on inverts exposed by the negative tide.  In Outer Bay, pigeon guillemots dove to the flat, sandy bottom for their food. Also near the point, were a couple of marbled murrelets, in their summer brown to blend in against tree bark.  A constant flow of glaucous-winged gulls sailed along the bluff edge on thermals.

Common Murre and Rhinoceros Auklet Switch

By Joe Behnke | Filed in Bird surveys

Last Friday, the waters off Iceberg were bubbling with 2-inch herring. A bait ball off the point attracted a hundred common murres, over 150 gulls, and some cormorants and a few rhinoceros auklets. A major shift occurred this month as common murres arrived to inland waters from the ocean and rhinoceros auklets departed for the ocean, having completed their summer nesting season. Upon close inspection, I observed several murre fathers escorting their flightless chicks. Gulls are showing high numbers now with visiting California gulls and Heermann’s gulls around, and glaucous-wings completing their breeding season on local islands. They are taking advantage of the sandlance and herring that is accessible on the surface in summer. Several marbled murrelet pairs were spotted, too. They now are wearing their winter plumage, as are many pigeon guillemots. I spotted a few surf scoters and a harlequin duck in flight. One bald eagle was sitting on a distant islet, but I figure most might be salmon fishing on one of the mainland rivers.

Rhinoceros Auklets Abound

By Joe Behnke | Filed in Bird surveys

In June and early July, rhinoceros auklets outnumbered all seabirds in the area. Tens of thousands of them nested on small islands in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and foraged in our deep-water channels. Gulls and auklets worked together; gulls located sandlance concentrations and auklets drove fish to the surface for the gulls. Marbled murrelets, cormorants, tufted puffins, and common murres also worked bait balls, although in lesser numbers. As June came to an end, the dark-grey Heermann’s gulls arrived from Mexico and, by early July, the first California gulls began to trickle-in.

Tufted Puffins Spotted in May

By Joe Behnke | Filed in Bird surveys

I conducted two surveys at Iceberg since my last report: one on May 15th and the other on June 5th.  First of all, I spotted a pair of tufted puffins on May 15th, but did not see puffins on June 5th.  I expected to see them because there were feeding congregations just off the point consisting of over 200 rhinoceros auklets, a few common murres, a few cormorants, a few Pacific loons, and near 100 glaucous-winged gulls. June 5th was a -2.7 tide that peaked during my survey, and I couldn’t resist getting out my little video camera a few times to record some action: first, a ski boat shot down the center of the Strait of Juan de Fuca blaring county music—the whole place to himself—and since everything else was dead calm, its song carried loud and clear all the way to Iceberg spooking up some loafing gulls, but a family of 6 river otters, who were slipping and sliding and tunneling through the exposed eel grass beds having themselves a crunchy feast, did not seem to mind; second, in route to station 2, I heard loud splashing below the cliffs—it happened to be a large male sea lion that was going along stunning fish with a whip of its neck and gobbling them down, just about every ten seconds a new 1-3 foot long fish.  On May 15th, 4 juvenile and 2 adult bald eagles soared above the monument, and so did 7 turkey vultures. June 5th: not a bald eagle in sight. June 5th, I did see a group of 9 white-winged scoters flying along, so they haven’t all gone north.  Outer Bay had pigeon guillemots, and pelagic and double-crested cormorants. At station 1 there were 7 marbled murrelets, all with summer breeding plumage, foraging to country music. And, a group of 9 harlequin ducks dove near the point.

 

April Seabird Report

By Joe Behnke | Filed in Bird surveys

At Iceberg, pelagic cormorant and glaucous-winged gull activity increased in April. Looking to nearby Hall Island, I could see why as it was speckled with hundreds of nesting glaucous-winged gulls and pelagic cormorants. A few rhinoceros auklets dove close to the cliffs, but hundreds could be seen far off toward Richardson and Davis Head. Pigeon guillemots were seen from most observation points, as were red-breasted mergansers. Other sightings during a late April survey included harlequin ducks, a marbled murrelet, 2 Pacific loons, and 2 horned grebes. If you go out to Iceberg, keep your eyes open for tufted puffins—last year we started to see them in May.

March Seabird Report

By Joe Behnke | Filed in Bird surveys

I conducted 3 surveys at Iceberg Point over the month. Common loons were still around, but Pacific loon sightings decreased almost to none over the month. I observed hundreds of Pacific loons congregated in Cattle Pass in mid February. Possibly that was a pre-migration get together. I witnessed a few other massive congregations from Iceberg this month. On March 20th I counted about 50 marbled murrelets between Davis Head and Richardson. Last year, I observed the same phenomenon in early April. Also on March 20th, there were 100’s of horned grebes congregated off Davis Head. On April 3rd, I counted dozens of brants foraging in a tiderip off Iceberg. Bald eagles were acting crazy too—pairs doing aerial grappling and acrobatics. A peregrine falcon was sitting on a cliff perch on March 20th.

With the strong southeast winter winds, surf scoters like to hangout on the leeward side of Iceberg Point, near Agate Beach. On February 7th, I observed several large groups of horned grebes—one with 47 birds. This was a big difference from all other surveys this winter; I have wondered where the horned grebes have been this winter; I’ve see some, but not that many.

An exciting moment at Iceberg was when a peregrine falcon dive-bombed a black turnstone. It missed, and then flew way out into the strait toward Sequim.

January Seabird Report

By Joe Behnke | Filed in Bird surveys

The waters off Iceberg Point were similar in bird species and abundance to San Juan Channel–except there were more alcids spotted.  Still, alcids were few and far between compared to other times of year: a common murre darting across the waves far out, a pair of marbled murrelets here and there, a flock of ancient murrelets speeding along through the air and then suddenly plunging into a coordinated underwater pursuit.  The group of winter white horned grebes that often ply the kelpy zone were absent; only harlequin ducks and a few pelagic cormorants and red-breasted mergansers worked these waters. From the northeastern most end, looking toward Richardson and Agate Beach, large numbers of surf scoters enjoyed this sheltered side along with common loons, common goldeneyes, buffleheads, and horned grebes.

Scoters Galore

By Joe Behnke | Filed in Bird surveys

At Iceberg last Sunday there were a lot more scoters than usual. White-winged and surf scoters foraged close to shore, and a pair of more rare black scoters flew past. Also, long rafts of Pacific loons drifted 500 m off Iceberg Point. I counted 90. I don’t remember seeing this many together before, especially this time of year. A concerted group of horned grebes with flashy white plumage dove inside the kelp zone off the monument. Off Salmon Point, gulls, cormorants, and red-breasted mergansers converged on a bait ball. Then, 4 bald eagles—two adults and two juveniles—joined the group; the bald eagles swooped on the bait with their talons. One eagle attacked a gull and fell into the water, swamped for several minutes. It finally got airborne and joined in the feeding frenzy once again. The tide was very high and wind swell washed over what was left of the lower islets, so the usual black turnstones, surfbirds, and oystercatchers were elsewhere.