Tuesday, June 09, 2009

This is not a great photo but I can't resist introducing these cool little seabirds.
Rhinoceros auklets. I caught these two on the May trip to the San Juan Islands.

You may just be able to make out the horn that grows on the upper base of the beak. Thus the name. This horn is used to dig burrows where they stash their young while out at sea feeding.

The auklet is not an auk at all, it's really a puffin. It's unusual in being mostly nocturnal. In the day rhinos are on the water. At night they take care of business back at the colony where they compete for burrow sites, dig, lay eggs or feed their young.

Females lay a single egg and both parents put all of their energy into ensuring the survival of that one chick. That involves taking turns on the egg for about 45 days then provisioning it with a steady stream of Pacific sandlance for another 55 days or so. Herring or young rockfish will also do in a pinch.

More than 80,000 rhinoceros auklets, along with many other seabirds, breed on the Scott Islands off the north western tip of Vancouver Island. This is 12 per cent of the national population and 7 per cent of the global population. The breeding colony on Triangle Island (one of the Scott Islands) alone consists of over 40,000 breeding pairs.

The entire Scott Islands group is protected as a provincial park and a federal Marine Wildlife Area. The three outermost islands – Triangle, Sartine and Beresford – are ecological reserves and a permit must be obtained from B.C. Parks in order to visit them.

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