February 17, 2019

Winter Wildlife Wonderland: Wildlife Watching Trip from Friday Harbor

Steller Sea Lion

Erick | February 17, 2019 | M/V Sea Lion | 12:00

'Twas a gloriously bright and sunny winter day in the San Juan Islands. Capt. Mike and I set out with a small and cozy group of folks. We headed south through San Juan Channel until we reached Cattle Pass. Here, where San Juan Channel empties into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, currents swirl around many jagged and bird covered islets. The rocks here are a favorite place for Steller Sea Lions to hang out and sun.  Today there were around 40 different Steller sea Lions laying around the rocks and some were swimming around in the swirling currents. Most of the sea lions that hang out on this rock are adult males. Adult males usually weigh in around a ton and look like Grizzly Bears with flippers. Today was also a little bit special because I saw the most juvenile Steller Sea Lions that I have ever seen at this particular rock. the young ones mostly seemed content to flip around with each other in the water just south of the rock. We will see if they keep showing up there. Next we headed a little bit east to Long Island where we saw a Bald Eagle sitting on the top of a tree as well as one soaring above. Just at one of the points of this island we also spied a very sizable nest where these two may start raising chicks in a few months. 

After this we went of a search of Haro Strait. We passed by a few spots that are popular feeding groups for marine mammals: Middle Bank, Beaumont Shoals, and Kelp Reef. Here we saw a plethora of sea birds such as: Pelagic Cormorants, Common Murres, Surf Scoters, Brants, and Harlequin Ducks! After scouring Haro Strait we headed around the north side of San Juan Island to complete our circumnavigation. We stopped at Sentinel Rocks to view the other common pinniped that we see in our waters: the Harbor Seal! There were a bunch of them sunning themselves as well as swimming in the kelp surrounding the rock. Next we headed to the south side of Spieden Island. This privately owned island is kind of a funny conservation area. The southern slope looks reminiscent of what al lof the south facing sides of the San Juans used ot look like before western farming practices and more permananent houses came to the San Juans. Since most of our wind and sun come from the south these southern exposures are small prarie ecosystems dominated by grasses, wildflowers, and Garry Oaks. The funny part is that this island also harbors some exotic animals that were brought in to be part of an exotic game hunting ranch. Three of the imported species still roam free on the island: Fallow Deer, Sika Deer, and Mouflon Sheep. We made another stop to see the Steller Sea Lions resting at Green Point as well as a final stop to see some Harbor Porpoises hunting in between Spieden Island and Limestone Point. What a wonderful sunny winter wildlife day. Hope to see you all stop by soon for one of our weekend trips!


Naturalist Erick

San Juan Safaris