[Tweeters] A Salt & Pepper Seabird Spectacle
marcus at rainierconnect.com
Tue Apr 12 20:25:19 PDT 2016
I had a scheduled trip to Whidbey Island on Monday and elected to take the much more traffic friendly trip up the west side of the sound and take the ferry from Port Townsend to Coupeville, Whidbey Island. It was a perfect day for salt water viewing with a high overcast, no wind, minimal wave action and about 3 hours after low tide (or at least 3 hours after the cancelled ferry runs : –) ). The show began while waiting in line, as I watched a pair of Harlequin Ducks diving around the ferry pilings and a flock of Black Brant feeding on the adjacent beach. Once on the ferry, I high-tailed it to the top to get eye to eye with the Cormorants perching on the pilings.
While most of the year the cormorants are variations on brown and black, it is this time of year that they truly shine. The Brandt’s Cormorant can be a show stealer with their white plumes of feathers poking out in fine white sprays on their head, neck & scapulars. But it is when you can get a good sideways look, especially with sun in the background, that you get to see their electric blue gular pouch – truly amazing! And not to be outdone on the same set of pilings, the Pelagic Cormorants were showing off their white flank patches and brilliant dark red face. Heck, even the Double-crested Cormorants where showing their brighter orange than usual gular and their two black wispy crests.
As the ferry continued east, it looked as if some giant pepper and salt shakers had been knocked over onto the Sound. In the middle was a mass of 300-400 dark birds and as the ferry came upon the mass, it was clear that they were Rhinoceros Auklets. They were so close to the ferry, that I could clearly see their white head plumes and their little rhino horns. As I scanned around the mass I realized that there were at least another 400 Rhinos scattered evenly across the water. The human brain boggles at trying to count such numbers and to be in the middle of such a group of at least 800 birds was a very special treat. And that was only counting the ones that were above the water.
And just to keep things lively, there were Bonaparte’s Gulls in their Black-headed finery, Glaucous-winged Gulls with glaucous wing tips, truly “Red”-necked Grebes, Common Murres, Marbled Murrelets and a one group of 63 Pigeon Guillemots working the tidal rip.
It was a great day to be birding.
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