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!


  1. Sounds like a must do trip someday - can't wait to hear more!

  2. Great post.

    Rest assured, if we don't hear from you on your tour, Serene and I will charter a boat and search until we find you on your "deserted isle".

  3. So beautiful that I'd even brave that cold weather!