Thursday, May 21, 2009

Sailing the San Juans

On my May long weekend travels I covered ground that felt at once familiar and like charting new territory.

I met my friends, who have a great boat in Point Roberts, Wash. From there we set sail for the north eastern part of the San Juan Islands, specifically Matia Island.

On the way out we saw Dall's porpoises, the weather was ideal and we lucked into being the only boat to anchor in Matia Cove for two days.

Once we got on land and hiked around, I started recognizing the landscape and realized I'd been in the area on whale watching trips. We used to sail out of Victoria and approach the San Juans from the other side.

That kept me on the look out for resident orcas, but we didn't spot any. Saw some other familiar forms, though.

Like the pigeon guillemot.

This seabird belongs to the family that includes puffins and auks. They would be around the cove in the morning, sitting on the water or flying up to the sandstone cliffs where they must be nesting. Probably eggs at this stage.

They eat fish which they pursue by flying under the water, diving to depths up to 45 m but typically between 10 and 20 m.

They can also hover underwater and use their bills to pry mollusks and crustaceans off rocks.

I haven't read much about those fantastic red feet but such decorations usually signal how incredibly fit they are to potential mates.

As in, I'm so great I can survive even with these beacons to guide predators to me. Or, I'm such a super forager, I can get enough nutrients to keep my feet ultra red. It works, populations of this Pacific Northwest species are going strong.

They are known for doing a courting dance on the water which may be what they are doing in the photo below.

They are faithful to their mates and nest sites, so if I returned year after year I'd meet the same birds. They are known to live more than 20 years in the wild.

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