Northwest coastal living, 1 of 2

Lest you think the San Juan Islands are uninhabited, I’ll share images of some of the beachfront housing we saw on our trip with Puget Sound Express.

Beachfront property? Beautiful, remote island setting? Spectacular water view?

What’s not to like?

The settings are incomparable.

Lunch with a sea lion

Here are the last of my wildlife shots from our San Juan Islands excursion with Puget Sound Express. We came upon a Stellar, or Northern, sea lion enjoying some lunch. It was another of many exciting moments.

Lunch was probably a salmon. Now…how did we find this one sea mammal in a very large body of water?

The poor guy was being mercilessly harassed by a flock of seagulls that dive bombed him, pecking at the fish in his jaws.

Think about that today if you’re among those who have a feast planned for Easter and dread dinner table conversations. It could be much worse.

There were other sea lions not far away that seemed content with their lot.

Sucia Island

One of the many highlights of our trip through the San Juan Islands with Puget Sound Express was a visit to Sucia Island, a Washington State marine park. The island is a gem. Parts of the landscape have the mood and beauty of a large, perfectly composed Japanese garden.

There are beaches and picnic tables. Walking trails circle much of the island.

There were brief light rains while we were on the island and we had the island entirely to ourselves after the only other boat departed. Weather in April is unpredictable but it means that many popular spots are uncrowded.

Other birds

Though I sadly missed shots of many smaller birds on my San Juan Islands excursion with Puget Sound Express last week, I didn’t miss them all. Cormorants posed on piers, driftwood, and rocks as we passed.

Occasionally they took flight.

I spied great blue herons now and then.

We saw lots and lots of rhinoceros auklets and even though these are small I have to post a tiny sample since these are such pretty specimens. Auklets are alcids, common residents here during spring and summer. They’re the chubby black birds with white markings in the center of the shot. There are shorebirds on either side of them, along with a duck. Auklets generally hang out in deep salt water and dive for fish.

Late note: I’ve incorrectly identified the rhinoceros auklets. These are in fact male harlequin ducks. My mistake. I’m certain they were correctly identified on our journey. My memory is at fault. For more details click on today’s comment section and see the comment from Paul from Powell River, a superb blogger and knowledgeable birder.

Eagles

Our trip through the San Juans with Puget Sound Express last week included plenty of birdwatching and it didn’t disappoint. The boat trolled near shores of many small islands that Bob Boekelheide, our Audubon bird expert, identified as bird habitat.

We saw dozens of different kinds of waterfowl, loons, grebes, cormorants and more. And I was nearly consumed with envy as other photographers on board zoomed in with their honkin’ big lenses to capture beauty shots of the smaller birds.

But the abundance of eagles throughout the region was no minor compensation for the shots that got away. We saw eagles young and old, in flight and perched.

From the looks of it the San Juan Islands support a robust population of these top raptors. And in the lower left of this shot those are seals, part of a population of at least a dozen that we saw at this location.

Some of them looked better than others. On a rainy afternoon this wet one looked pretty miserable.

Porpoises and dolphins

After our first whale sighting our Puget Sound Express captain, Christopher Hanke, spied dolphins playing in the wake of a nearby boat. He volunteered to see if he might lure them into the wake of our boat and he did just that. Soon we had Pacific white-sided dolphins virtually flying beside and behind the boat.

Porpoises also came along for the fun. They matched the speed of the boat, close to the hull, or nearby in the wake, breaching and leaping as we sped along. This one is either a Dall’s porpoise or a harbor porpoise. Dolphins have sleeker bodies than porpoises and the jaw structure and teeth are different.

I’ve always wanted to see dolphins do this. It was one of my trip highlights.

Orcas

Puget Sound Express (PSE) guarantees that its customers will see whales on their whale watching tours. Their captain and staff stay in contact with other tour boats and make a real effort to find and follow them.

We kept a respectful distance each time we came upon orcas, or killer whales, on two of our three days of travel. This was a pod of five and the PSE staff identified the group. There are both resident and transient pods in our area.

These whales are actually part of the oceanic dolphin family. They surface briefly to breathe. I have a couple dozen shots of their dorsal fins, all that’s left to view if you don’t catch them quickly as they surface.