Thursday 2 August 2018

Puffins and Auklets/San Juan Cruises

July 2018

San Juan Puffin watching cruises depart from the Bellingham Cruise Terminal / Alaska Ferry Terminal in Bellingham, WA.

The weather couldn't have been better. A high pressure system had stalled off the British Columbia and Washington coastline. Conditions were perfect for a boat trip, the ocean was calm and the sky cobalt blue.

Pelagic Cormorant "condo"

 Plenty of sunscreen and a wide brimmed hat were mandatory. On board the San Juan Cruise Puffin watching trip were a dozen members of the Langley Field Naturalists as well naturalists from White Rock and Delta. 

Double-crested Cormorants.
What surprised me most were the large numbers of Rhinoceros Auklets.

Most auklets were too far out of range for photography but as we neared Smith Island the boat slowed to view harbour seals making it easier to snap a few shots. 

Harbour Seal and pup.

 Rhinoceros Auklet

Most auklets were seen flying away from the boat which gave the photographers on board the opportunity to snag some flight shots, albeit from a distance. These images are highly cropped but does include a nice reflection in the water.

Heermann's Gulls out numbered Glaucous-winged and Ring-billed. During lulls in the action we looked for the odd  California Gulls that mingled with the other gull species

Heermann's Gull

         Two hours into the trip we reached Smith Island but not before viewing several colonies of         Pelagic and Double-crested Cormorants. Also present albeit in lesser numbers were Brandt's Cormorant.

Double-crested Cormorant colony

Smith Island is one of few areas left that Tufted Puffins are regularly seen in the San Juan Islands. Historically, these birds had many nesting colonies throughout the islands. However, due to population declines they have become rare and are listed as a “species of concern”.
(Courtesy San Juan Cruise website)

At Smith Island the tide was low and the Tufted Puffins were feeding in and around the kelp beds. Some young puffins were present but they stayed well away from the boat, at least it speaks of a successful breeding season. The skipper cut the motor and we drifted while we were served a delicious pasta meal.

Common Murre
The crew then decided to look for a lone male Killer Whale that had been spotted nearby. Shortly we came across a whale watching boat and from a good distance were able to observe a single male Orca  sending spray skyward. What better way to spend a day.

5 Harlequin Duck 
1 Common Loon 
5 Brandt's Cormorant 
30 Pelagic Cormorant 
50 Double-crested Cormorant 
5 Turkey Vulture 
3 Black Oystercatcher 
6 peep sp.
4 Common Murre 
30 Pigeon Guillemot 
6 Marbled Murrelet 
60 Rhinoceros Auklet 
8Tufted Puffin

More info
Puffin and Auklet watching

"It's never too late to start birding"
John Gordon
BC Canada

                                                                 Bird watching cruise


  1. I loved doing this trip over the years told several vancouver birders who came along it's a special place glad you had fun much cheaper than going to see them at tofino. on our trip we had a long-tailed jaeger and ancient murrelet which was super rare. lovely photos and post John with climate change their numbers will continue to decline with their source of food being affected from warming seas and all the plastic we put in doesn't help either.

  2. The Tufted Puffin was a lifer and made my day extra special. So sad about the Orca's and their struggle to survive due to over fishing, climate change and boat traffic.