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Protection Island Cruise
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Protection Island Cruise

Protection Island Cruise

Posted june 28, 2015 from Seattle, WA

Not far from Port Townsend is the largest breeding island in the world for Rhinocerous Auklets, a seabird closely related to Puffins.  We took a trip Sat evening led by the famous expert Bainbridge Island bird trip leader George Gerdts to see the island and the spectacle.

We motored out of Port Hudson Marina at 6 30 pm on the speedy 80 ft. Glacier Spirit with the sun hanging in the sky looking like it was about to go down.  But since it was practically the solstice, all it did was slide north. 


We immediately began encountering Rhinoceros Auklets,  a fish-eating, diving member of the Alcidae family which also includes the Puffins.


The Rhinos apparently loaf much of the day, then fish hard, loading up with up to 20 small fish, apparently often Sand Lances, which they load up in their mouth and bring to the chicks in a late evening run trying to avoid the increasing hordes of Bald Eagles that live on the island and prey on the birds.


On the way out we found a few Marbled Murrelet pairs, sorry for the poor shot.  Alcids have very strong pair bonds, they almost always are seen together, this bird’s mate was just out of the picture.  Marbled Murrelets are endangered, relying on a large flat branch high on a tree in oldgrowth forest for a nest.  They have been clocked at 113 mph (that could have been wind-aided, but they are very fast) by Canadian radar researchers and use the speed to fly long distances to their nests. 



At Protection Island is also a small colony of Tufted Puffins and we saw about 5, including three swimming together.  There is no sexual dimorphism so this adult bird could be a male or a female. 


Here’s another Tufted Puffin.  They can dive down 250 ft.




Speaking of speedy boats, we had just seen this one tied up in Seattle when we took the Bainbridge Ferry.  After breaking a worldwide record for snowfall only recently, one can imagine how embarrassed Mt. Baker is here with just a dirty old thin crust from last year.




Here we are speeding away from Port Townsend, which can look picturesque from many vantage points.



Note the presence of flippers which rule out this being a Sea-going Shmoo.  Instead, it is an adolescent male Elephant Seal,  a member of a species becoming regular in the Salish Sea lately, presumably as a result of warming water.  He got spooked and eased into the water.


This is the same Elephant Seal.  He was with an adult female who didn’t evacuate from her sunbathing position.  Bulls eventually can reach almost 13 ft. and almost 4000 lbs and despite the terrible thing I just said about them looking like shmoos, they are capable of incredible athleticism, diving to depths of 3500 ft.


It was a good day for Hirundines.  This father Barn Swallow at the Marina has lost one of his tail spikes.  It was great to see Barn Swallows, Violet-green and Tree Swallows in PT and we had Purple Martins high overhead at the Marina, plus a family came over the boat at Protection Island and circled the boat about 10 feet overhead, a great treat.



We got back to Port Townsend at 9:30 which still gave us time to party the town down.  Another picturesque view of PT.

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