As part of the first annual Orcas Island Bird & Wildlife Festival, I'm on a marine bird watching boat tour with Deer Harbor Charters. We're in good hands with local naturalist Natalie Herner and Nate Averna, who grew up on Orcas and is working with his father Tom in the family business.
Here on the north side of the island, a pair of peregrines is building a nest on a cliff above the sea. While I've seen peregrines before, I've never seen a nest site.
But that's not all. Natalie points out lots of marine birds as our group scans the surrounding water and islands with binoculars glued to our hands and eyes. Surf scoters, pigeon guillemots, a few kinds of grebes, cormorants, showy harlequin ducks, lots of bald eagles, and more are spotted.
|Naturalist Guide Natalie Herner points out a belted kingfisher in Deer Harbor.|
As we round to the west side of Speiden and slowly head back east, we're greeted by an unusual spring green. This island is brown most of the year and grazed by exotic European deer and goats that were introduced for hunting decades ago by private owners, Natalie tells us.
Between soaring bald eagles and Bonaparte's gulls (pictured at the top of this post), we motor past clumps of sleek and shiny harbor seals sunning on rocky outcrops. They're checking us out, too. Someone sees what looks like a pup, which is quite unusual this early in the season.
I find these guys comical. Just look at those faces. :)
Rounding the easternmost tip of Speiden, a group of massive Steller sea lions are hanging out, with a couple big guys bellowing at each other. Although they are threatened up north in the Bering Sea, Natalie tells us this more southern (Eastern Distinct Population Segment) is doing okay and no longer listed as Threatened or Endangered.
|Steller sea lions|
|Sentinel Island, with British Columbia in the distance.|
|Natalie and Nate, Deer Harbor Charters staff extraordinaire.|
When You Go
After the first of the year or so, check the Birdfest website for details on next year's festival, which was sponsored this year by the friendly folks at the Orcas Island Chamber of Commerce. In the meantime, you can go on trips with Deer Harbor Charters in the summer ahead.