Thursday, April 27, 2017

Sunset on the Spit

Most evenings we walk down to the spit when the refuge closes.
This week the Refuge closes at 8:00 p.m.

There are a couple of viewing platforms high above the spit.

Sunset on the spit.

Monday, April 24, 2017

San Juan Islands - Day 3 - Returning Home

Day 3 found us back on the boat at 9:30.  We thought we would head straight back to the John Wayne Marina, and eventually we got there.  But we took a very roundabout route. 
 Mark standing between the Glacier Spirit (left) and a very nice yacht.

On our third day we went chasing after more Orcas.  We found a pod of five transient Killer Whales.  First Mate Christopher is sure that the large male is T49A1.

We got great looks while Captain Christopher followed the whales.

We watched the whales for quite some time, then Captain Christopher announced “5 more minutes”.  The whales were giving us a great show.  About 15 minutes later, we really did have to go. 

We headed to Deception Pass.  Captain Christopher had heard on the radio that the weather would be very rough.  Winds recorded that morning up to 30 knots.  We went inside for lunch and got ready for a rough ride.

Deception Pass is the strait separating Whidbey Island from Fidalgo Island.  It connects Skagit Bay, part of Puget Sound, with the Strait of Juan de Fuca.  A pair of bridges known collectively as Deception Pass Bridge cross Deception Pass, and the bridges are on the National Register of Historic Places.
Deception Pass Bridge up ahead.
A group of sailors led by Joseph Whidbey, part of the Vancouver Expedition, found and mapped Deception Pass on June 7, 1792.  George Vancouver gave it the name "Deception" because it had misled him into thinking Whidbey Island was a peninsula.  The "deception" was heightened due to Whidbey's failure to find the strait at first.

Deception Pass is a dramatic seascape where the tidal flow and whirlpools beneath the twin bridges move quickly.  During ebb and flow current speed reaches about 8 knots (9.2 mph), flowing in opposite directions between ebb and flood.  This swift current can lead to standing waves, large whirlpools, and roiling eddies. 
Did you notice the calm waters?  Yep, by the time we got to Deception Pass the winds had calmed and the ride was smooth. We didn't get to experience the excitement of high flows in Deception Pass, but it was certainly beautiful.

Back out on the Strait of Juan de Fuca we headed south past Smith Island Marine Sanctuary – an island in the middle of the sea that is home to thousands of seabirds and mammals. It was amazing to see the hundreds of animals massed on this small strip of rocks. 
Harbor Seals

 Hundreds of Dunlin with a few Sanderling

It's a little hard to see but this was our route for the 3 day tour:
Days 1 and 2 in purple.  Day 3 in red.
We pulled into John Wayne Marina about 4:30, grabbed our gear, and headed home.

We ended up seeing 3 life birds and 4 life mammals:

Marbled Murrelet
Yellow-billed Loon
River Otter
Dall’s Porpoise
Orca Whale
Steller’s Sea Lion

It was a wonderful trip!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

San Juan Islands - Day 2 Continued - Back On The Boat

After our early morning bird walk we had a really good breakfast at the Lime Kiln Cafe. Unfortunately, this cafe isn’t open for dinner.

We got aboard the Glacier Spirit and were off by 9:30 a.m. 

It wasn’t long before we sighted our second life bird of the trip.
Yellow-billed Loon
Gavia adamsii

Our destination for the day was Sucia Island State Park where we had 2 hours to roam around on our own.  We were handed sack lunches as we left the boat.

Sucia Island State Park is a 564-acre marine park with 77,700 feet of shoreline. It is considered the crown jewel of the state’s marine park system and is consistently ranked as one of the top boating destinations in the world.

While eating our lunch we saw this cute River Otter coming down the beach.

Eating lunch.

After lunch we headed down the beach for a little exploring.  No rock collecting on this beach so I took pictures of a few of the more interesting rocks.

The shoreline is famous for its highly eroded sandstone formations including mushroom rock.

There aren’t a lot of birds to be seen, as it’s still a little early in the season.  After a couple of hours we headed back to the boat.

We headed for an island where Stellar Sea Lions are usually seen sunning on the rocks.   As we passed by we were disappointed to not see any.  Captain Christopher knows this area well and lets us know that, with the high tide, the Sea Lions are out feeding.  He knew just the place too!  It wasn’t long before we started seeing the Sea Lions in the water all around our boat.  They were feeding in the deeper waters.

One had a salmon that it was bringing to the surface and shaking savagely to break it into bite-sized pieces. The gulls loved it!
Stellar Sea Lion (Eumetopias jubatus)
An average adult male weights about 1,250 lbs.  They can weigh up to 2,500 lbs.  Females weigh up to 770 lbs.

They came so close to the boat that even my little camera got good pictures.

Everyone decides to dive at the same time! 

We got back to the hotel in time for dinner but decided to go over to the little store first.  They had stocked up on croissant sandwiches so we got a couple, chips, diet coke, maybe a little dessert, and headed back to our very comfortable room for the evening.

Next time:  Day 3 - Coming Home

Monday, April 17, 2017

San Juan Islands - Day 2 - Roche Harbor Resort

We end our first day pulling into the dock at Roche Harbor Resort. 
It was a short walk to our hotel.
While checking in we’re told there is only one restaurant that is open for dinner and we should make reservations.  Since we were pretty tired and had a very light lunch (tomato bisque soup with artisan bread) on the boat, we got a 5:30 reservation.

Our room is on the third floor in the newest addition, Quarryman Hall.  Our room is fabulous!  King bed, fireplace, large sitting area, balcony, and the bathroom floor is heated. 

Our room.
When we signed up for this trip everything was included in the price except dinner for two evenings.  I had looked the restaurant up on the Internet so we were prepared for a very expensive meal.  The food was good.  $110 later, we were finished with dinner.

We moseyed on over to a small grocery store right on the dock where we picked up something for dessert and a few souvenirs.    
 A few magnets for my collection.
It was great to get out of the cold and wind.  We took our dessert back to the room, turned on the gas fireplace and settled in for the night.

The next morning we’re up early for a 7 a.m. bird walk with our guide/naturalist Bob.  It’s cold and raining lightly and the turnout for this walk is slim.
Morning bird walk.
We’re not seeing very many birds on the walk but the most interesting stop was the McMillan Family Mausoleum known as Afterglow Vista.

This is an excerpt from a sign at the entrance:

The McMillin Family Mausoleum was built by John S. McMillin as a memorial for his family, and for the things in which he believed.  It incorporates symbols from Masonry, the Bible, and the Sigma Chi fraternity, all of which were important to him.  He also incorporated his own views of family unity.

The structure is approached by two sets of stairs, representing the steps within the Masonic Order.  The stairs on the east side stand for the spiritual life of man.  The winding in the path symbolizes that the future cannot be seen.  The stairs were built in sets of three, five and seven.  This represents the three stages of life (youth, manhood, age), the five orders of architecture (Tuscan, Doric, Iconic, Corinthian, Composite), the five senses, and the seven liberal arts and sciences (grammar, rhetoric, logic, arithmetic, geometry, music, astronomy).
Stairs leading to the Mausoleum.
The columns were created to be the same size as those in King Solomon’s temple.  The broken column represents the broken column of life - that man dies before his work is completed.
Broken column.
The center of the mausoleum boasts a round table of limestone and concrete surrounded by six stone and concrete chairs.  The chair bases are crypts for the ashes of the family, while the whole represents their reunion after death.
The construction of the mausoleum began in 1930 and was completed to its present state by the spring of 1936 at a cost of approximately $30,000.  McMillin had planned to erect a bronze dome with a Maltese cross atop the edifice.  He had ordered the dome, but his son, Paul cancelled the order, as the company did not have the $20,000 it would cost.

Next time:  After breakfast, we're back on the boat.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The answers are 4 1/2 and 5

What are the questions?

How many layers does it take to keep warm and dry in April on an island in the Pacific Northwest?

To keep warm:
Long johns
Fleece hoodie
Goose down coat

To keep dry:
All of the above plus rain gear.

Oh, and the 1/2 - warm hat, gloves, and scarf.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Just Sit Right Back And You’ll Hear A Tale ... Sing Along!

I don’t know why every time I get on a boat I start singing the Gilligan’s Island song (I loved that show!).

This past weekend was the 14th annual Olympic Peninsula’s Bird Fest.  We kicked it off with a 3 day trip to the San Juan Islands aboard the Glacier Spirit. 
This boat holds 70 people, plus crew, but we got lucky and there were only about 20 folks on the trip so there was plenty of room to spread out. 
Inside the Glacier Spirit
Our first day finds us boarding at 9:30 a.m. at the John Wayne Marina in Sequim, Washington.
John Wayne was a frequent visitor to Sequim Bay aboard his family yacht, the "Wild Goose.".  The marina stands on land donated by the late film star in 1975. 

Our crew is Captain Christopher, First Mate Christopher, and Chef (and everything else), Sarah.  Sarah is Captain Christopher’s sister.  This is a family operation, started by their grandparents.  The crew was extremely nice and knowledgeable of the area.  They have lived here all their lives.  First Mate Christopher and Captain Christopher have been best friends since elementary school.
Captain and First Mate
We hand over our luggage and find seats with a great view.  We’ve got a long day ahead with lots to see.
We get souvenir coffee mugs and are told to write our name on the bottom.  These will be used throughout the trip for coffee or hot chocolate.  We also get name tags, but with everyone bundled up, they really weren’t very helpful. 
We head out through the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Haro Strait.  Our naturalist, Bob, has a lot of information about the various islands we will be passing as well as stories about how Vancouver, BC and Victoria got their names.  We won’t be going to Canada on this trip but we do find ourselves in Canadian waters a couple of times.

While Bob is telling us interesting stories, Sarah (the chef) is handing out Sherrie's Blueberry Buckle.  It is her grandmothers recipe and is really good.
After our breakfast snack Mark and I head out to the bow of the boat along with Bob and a few others. Later we come to realize that about half the folks on the boat are happy to sit inside and chat. 

It’s very windy and cold on the bow so I decide not to try to keep track of the birds and mammals seen.  We’re seeing so much that it would be hard to keep up anyway!

We immediately start seeing birds, like these Long-tailed Ducks.
We got into a bait ball, which is a group of birds feeding on a concentration of small fish near the surface. They are visible from quite a distance because of the gulls and other birds that congregate to feed.
One great thing about this type of trip is that the captain is happy to get the boat in close and allow us great looks at the various bird species. In the picture below we have (clockwise from top) a Common Murre, a Rhinoceros Auklet, a California Gull, and a Red-breasted Merganser.
One of the highlights of this first day was our first look (outside of a zoo) of a River Otter.  This one was having a snack.
North American River Otter
Scientific Name:  Lontra canadensis
Also new to us, Orca’s.  Also known as Killer Whales (Scientific Name:  Orcinus orca) although they are not whales at all!  They are the largest member of the dolphin family.

This area has both resident and transient pods of Killer Whales. Resident pods are larger and stay in one area, while the transient pods are small and move a great deal more. We spotted Transient Pod T11, which consists of just two Killer Whales. The female (T11) is the mother of the male (T11A).

Here is the pair together, with the female surfacing for air while the male cruises along submerged.
The sex of Orcas is easily determined. The males have a much larger dorsal fin, and are longer and heavier. Individual whales are identified by the shape and unique markings on the fins as well as their saddle patch, which is the lighter area just behind the dorsal fin. 
T11 (Female)
T11A (Male)
We also encountered a large pod of Dall’s Porpoise.  They were very fast and had a great time swimming in our wake. Some folks think that they are baby Orcas because of their similar color pattern. 

Dall’s Porpoise
Scientific Name:  Phocoenoides Dalli
There was a different porpoise swimming with the Dall's.  Sarah was pretty sure that it was a Dall/Harbor Porpoise hybrid. 
The Harbor Porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) is one of the smallest mammals.

And throughout the entire day we were surrounded by beautiful snow-covered mountains. 
Our first day ends at the Roche Harbor Resort on San Juan Island. 
There’s more to come!