April 26, 2013

Spring Abundance

At this time of year, it’s not unusual to leave the dock without a whale sighting to direct our course. The relatively predictable Southern Resident Killer Whales may not return to their summer feeding grounds in the Salish Sea for quite some time yet. Fortunately, the San Juan Islands harbor an abundance of life year-round, especially during the spring.

Today we passed by Yellow Island and saw sprays of color from spring wildflowers. Speiden Island is also looking oddly verdant. It won’t be long before the heavily grazed hillside turns a parched brown; but for a few more weeks we will see lush green grass and the pink hew of wildflowers. The bighorn sheep and deer were certainly out enjoying the fresh forage. Several ewes were supervising their fuzzy, energetic kids. Eagles also occupied their stately positions atop newly leafed maple and oak. On our first pass by Green Point, we were surprised to get only a fleeting glimpse of a Steller’s Sea Lion. Usually, they are a familiar fixture here in the spring. Just ten minutes later we returned to Green Point to find several impressive male sea lions milling about. Our patience was rewarded as we watched a few lions begin to haul their incredible bulk onto the rocks. This is a great time to watch for unusual migratory birds as well. Buffleheads, Surf Scoters, Brants, and large flocks of the black-headed Bonaparte’s Gulls were among the migrants that we observed today.

Mid-way through the trip we learned of a Transient Orca sighting north of East Point on Saturna Island, B.C. It can be a tough call to decide whether to press on even further from our home port so late into a trip. But after getting the go ahead from our enthusiastic guests, we extended the trip another hour in hopes of seeing whales. And were we glad we did! Near Active Pass we encountered two Killer Whales, T-20 and T-21, a mature male and female. In typical Transient fashion, their dives were unpredictable and hard to follow. But with Brian (the “Whale Whisperer”) as our captain, we had some great, up-close looks before heading home.

Naturalist Andrew, San Juan Safaris