November 15th Seabirds

By Joe Behnke | Filed in Bird surveys

The sea today off Iceberg was choppy and blue. The waters were littered with logs spit out from flooded rivers. A steller sea lion cruised through the debris thinking he saw a friend, but again it turned out to be wood. The tide was high, covering many of the rocks where gulls, turnstones and oystercatchers are often found. Close to shore, glaucous-winged gulls drifted in the blustery air, a lone harlequin duck worked the kelp, and a pair of brandt’s cormorants, a red-necked grebe and a marbled murrelet dove. A group of 12 black oystercatchers whistled their way down the coast. Further out, small groups of pacific loons, surf scoters, and common murres went by. Mew gulls were the other gull species spotted; Heermann’s gulls were absent.

A Sea Lion Finds Concentrated Prey

By Joe Behnke | Filed in Bird surveys

At Iceberg Sunday, lines of double-crested cormorants flew east and west. Pelagics fished close to shore and a few Brandt’s, with their long, straight necks in flight, flew by. Greater-than-usual numbers of surf and white-winged scoters flew past Iceberg—one long line had 42 individuals. Marbled murrelets buzzed at high speeds and fished the nearshore waters. There were a few pigeon guillemots, too, with their whitish winter plumages. Harlequin ducks were active around the bull kelp during the slack high tide. There was a constant movement of hundreds of gulls—glaucous-winged, California, Heermann’s, and mew–going somewhere, turning the corner at the point, but there were no grand feeding frenzies spotted. Black turnstones skipped between rocks, along with black oystercatchers. A more unusual show was that of a purse seiner that set her net just outside the bull kelp of the monument. But trapped inside the circle of net was a Chinook gobbling Steller sea lion gobbling what he likes best. The poor guy’s rompous ended upon the deck of the boat for a time while the crew coerced him out of the net. I wondered how many times this summer he got into that situation.

September Seabirds

By Joe Behnke | Filed in Bird surveys

Since mid-summer thousands of common murres have arrived to the archipelago. In August they rafted and foraged in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and in the waters off Richardson. In September they moved north into San Juan Channel. Last weekend, I counted over 2000 of them from Otis Perkins foraging along a tiderip. The same day, there were hundreds of rhinoceros auklets, but they were further up, seen from the Bay Café. I spotted a half dozen pairs of marbled murrelets in the channel yesterday.

Mid-channel, within the ranks of the alcids, I have seen a few red-necked grebes. Closer to shore, there have been a few horned-grebes, and there was a pair of pied-billed grebes in Fisherman Bay. The bulk of horned-grebes have not arrived yet. A few common loons have returned to our shorelines, too, and I spotted pacific loons flying off Iceberg. Also present nearshore are harlequin ducks, pelagic and double-crested cormorants, hooded mergansers, and pigeon guillemots, and of course, gulls.

Our gull populations are always in flux. In mid-august 1300 California gulls made Fisherman Bay their home base. Now, there are a few hundred gulls in Fisherman Bay–about even numbers of glaucous-winged and California gulls, a handful of mew gulls, and a Heermann’s or two. Seen more often in the channel or off Iceberg, Heermann’s gulls, currently taking advantage of autumnal bait balls, should leave for southern California and Baja in October.

As for shorebirds, the largest groups of western sandpipers (800+) moved through Fisherman Bay in early August, but smaller groups can still be spotted. Greater yellowlegs, killdeer, and semi-palmated plovers were at Week’s this month. And black oystercatchers commonly forage during low tide in Fisherman Bay.

As Fisherman Bay gets ready to host its winter waterfowl, a few have already arrived. Saturday, there was a group of mallards, a nondescript group of, probably, northern pintails, and a pair of scaups.

There was an unusual sighting this month at Iceberg. A week after the big windstorm, Shannon spotted a large bird with a very long beak perched on the rocks near a group of gulls. It was a brown pelican.

 

The waters off Iceberg Point on Tuesday morning were filled with rafts and rafts of common murrres; I counted over 2000 from my 5 observation points.  Their rafts coincided with bait-rich waters about 400 meters from shore; here and there, among the lines of murres, frenzied gulls stabbed at the baitballs pushed to the surface by the diving birds.  Also with the murres, I could see flocks of tiny white shorebirds, leaving the surface and flying for long distances down the strait. Later, near the point, I saw the small birds closer up, sitting in a tiderip with the murres. Then they got up and whisked eastward out of sight. They had to be red-necked phalaropes—the only sandpipers to fly in vast flocks this time of year and land in tide rips on their long migration to the South Pacific. Altogether, I saw around 250 of them.  Rhinoceros auklet numbers were down; the large rafts seen off Richardson a few weeks ago were missing, replaced by common murres. Rhinoceros auklets head out to the open ocean this time of year, while common murres arrive at these inland waters from their summer breeding colonies on the Oregon and California coasts. I saw one tufted puffin foraging near the point. Also, 5 harlequin ducks flew by. As for gulls, Californians outnumbered Heermann’s and glaucous-winged.

Orcas

By Joe Behnke | Filed in Bird surveys

Last Wednesday, a negative tide, still air, and climbing heat gave the morning a calm and sleepy quality. A large number of glaucous-winged and Heermann’s gulls rested on the islets east of the park. Marbled murrelets and common murres were the busiest seabirds as they dove and keer-called near the cliffs. A group of Orca whales slowly made their way westward. They were about 300 meters from shore and circling at times. Rhinoceros auklets numbered in the 200’s between Richardson and Iceberg Point. As the morning progressed, the group of lazing Heermann’s and glaucous-winged gulls, stepped off their rock and trudged westward, then around the corner to join the rhinos and the bait, which they sat on. Three tufted puffins, airborne, scoped the waters off the monument, decided against landing, and sped out into the strait, veering suddenly as a tall, black, dorsal fin emerged in their path.

Tufted Puffins

By Joe Behnke | Filed in Bird surveys

Last Sunday, the bait-rich waters off Iceberg attracted large numbers of rhinoceros auklets and glaucous-winged gulls. Also in the mix were common murres, Pacific loons, pelagic and double crested cormorants, and marbled murrelets. More notably, three tufted puffins were amongst feeding congregations about 300 meters from shore.

Quite a Few Marbled Murrelets

By Joe Behnke | Filed in Bird surveys

Last Sunday, the waters off Iceberg Point were alive with seabird activity. Thirty-two marbled murrelets foraged in the waters off site #1.  Glaucous-winged gull numbers seem to have increased ten fold as the nearby summer rookery on Hall Island has become white.  Further out in the strait, cormorants, rhino auklets, common murres, and pacific loons worked bait balls, white-winged and surf scoters flew past, and pairs of marbled murrelets zoomed.

Marbled Murrelet Easter Brunch Congregation

By Joe Behnke | Filed in Bird surveys

Last weekend off Iceberg, low-flying formations of brants flew toward Whidbey Island. Marbled murrelets fished close to the cliffs. Far out, red-breasted mergansers, cormorants, rhinoceros auklets and a few common murres were in pursuit of prey concentrations.

On Easter Sunday I saw the most marbled murrelets I have ever seen in one count. I counted 92 marbled murrelets in a tiderip that spanned from Iceberg Point to Richardson. They were mostly in pairs, some beginning to molt into brown.

March 22nd, 30 surfbirds, a few black turnstones, and two rock sandpipers foraged together on the rocky shoreline and small islets around Iceberg Point.

Pelagic Cormorants Abound

By Joe Behnke | Filed in Bird surveys

The fog burned off early Sunday morning at Iceberg Point, opening a calm expanse of patchy shades of blue punctuated by blips of seabirds, driftwood, harbor porpoises and seals. There was an above average number of pelagic cormorants diving along the cliffs and a group sunning on a rock near the point; two Brandt’s cormorants stood alongside the pelagics, illustrating well their bigger size. About 300 meters out a dozen large shorebirds (maybe black turnstones or surfbirds) flew along and landed on bull kelp. Common loons and red-necked grebes dove in the distance at station 1. A few rhinoceros auklets and one common murre flew by. I saw harlequin ducks from every station except 2. Black oystercatchers whistled and skipped between offshore rocks. Looking toward Outer Bay and Agate Beach, I counted 6 common loons, 25 surf scoters, 46 horned grebes, 6 pigeon guillemots, 3 harlequin ducks, 9 red-breasted mergansers, 12 buffleheads, 3 common goldeneyes, and one belted kingfisher. This station usually has the highest species diversity because it has both bay habitat and the open water of the strait.