Protection Island Spring Migration Cruise - April 27th

One new species photographed on this trip.

Protection Island is at the south east corner of The Strait of Juan de Fuca.   It's the only nesting spot in the North West US for numerous birds including Cormorants, Rhinoceros Auklets, Tufted Puffins, and many gulls.


The day we were there, thousands of Rhinoceros Auklets could be seen feeding from the east of the Island to Point Wilson.   Roger Risley, our naturalist explained that this time of year twice a month in the moon cycles, the tides were strong enough to bring up enough food for small fish to support feeding the Auklets.   On the other weeks they would fly daily to the Frasier River to feed which was longer but better feeding.   This time of year was nesting time so they would feed all day then return to their nests on the Island to feed their chicks.


Pigeon Guilemonts were also present in large numbers.


I know, this photo is too grainy.   The Surf Scoters wouldn't let us get close enough for a good photo and would take to the air.


Rounding the west end of the Island we saw large numbers of Harbor Seals and Elephant Seals.   A large flock of Brant were on the spit.   Roger said they would soon be gone on their migration.


Annual rainfall on the island is only 15 inches, insufficient to support a forest of trees.   But sufficient water does supplement what rain does fall in the form of wet fog, coming from the north and west, so the trees on this side of the Island do survive and provide the homes for many Bald Eagles.   This was as close to the island as boats are allowed to go.   We were able to get close to the sand bar at the west end, however.


This is one of many Bald Eagles we saw from the boat.   They feed on the thousands of chicks and smaller birds this time of year.


Small white specks can be seen on this south side of the island, near the top on the right side.   Those are some of the thousands of nesting gulls.


Zooming the camera in on one of those areas, Glaucous-winged Gulls can be seen.   They lay eggs on grass placed in small depressions in the soil.   We had the chance to see an eagle fly over one of these areas, causing hundreds of screaming gulls to take to the air.   Roger explained that the gulls had recently discovered that the eagles avoided being close to the two houses on the island so the gulls have been nesting more heavily there.   He also mentioned that some of these gulls have crossbred with Western Gulls.


We were early returning to Port Townsend so we were treated to a short tour of the sand bars between Marrowstone and Indian Islands.   These Caspian Terns were a new species for this log.   We also saw Oyster Catchers, but I was not quick enough to get a photo.


These Harlequin Ducks were a treat to see.   I would probably have missed them but being on a boat with 24 experienced birders, there isn't much chance for a species to get missed.


. . . Back home, a Bald Eagle landed on a limb in my neighbor's tree.   He is in a molting period, which is why he looks messy. Young eagles apparently molt five times before they reach adult plumage, which takes about five years.   The adults molt after the breeding season, and their wing feathers molt at a separate time than the rest of their feathers.   If someone knows any more< about this process,  Al would be happy to know.


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