I was riding along the Sammammish River Trail back in to Woodinville one weekend when the noise of geese suddenly filled the air. On the other side of the river from the trail are fields which often are filled with geese feeding. A large flock was gathered there on this day but their grazing had been interrupted by the arrival of a bald eagle. It flew across the area and barely changed course as it did so but it certainly startled the geese and they all took to the air.
They flew around in circles for a while waiting for the eagle to get safely out of the area. Then they gradually calmed down and more and more of them settled back in to the fields to resume eating. However, this was a slow process as they had clearly been spooked and weren’t going to relax easily. This was all starting as I cycled up but I did manage to pull my phone out and get a bit of video of this happening so here is the brief burst of excitement before things settled down again.
When walking along the shore at Mukilteo, I will often see one or two Murrelets diving for food in the shallows along the edge of Puget Sound. They are not rare but nor are they particularly abundant. Consequently, I was rather surprised when at the new ferry terminal to see a large number of them swimming in the water around the new pier structures. There was a constant stream of them diving down and surfacing again.
I can only assume that something is growing on the surface of the steel posts that support the new loading spans. The birds would swim up to the posts, dive straight down for a while – presumably as they grabbed the food – and then surface at an oblique angle. The result was a cycle of birds going down and back up again. It looked really strange and seemed like something that would stop but there must be plenty to eat as they just kept going. I figured video was the best way to show what was happening so below is a short clip of them feeding away!
There was a tank full of sardines at the aquarium that caught my attention. This was something that was really hard to photograph but I tried anyway. The sardines were swimming quickly in shoals and they looked much as you would expect them to – a sleek, silvery fish zipping through the water. The thing that caught my eye was they way that they opened their mouths to feed. The shape of the head is narrow and clean but, when they open their mouths, flaps of skin unfold to create a huge opening allowing them to scoop up food from a far wider area. A few of the shoal would do this at any one time so you never knew where to look but they would open wide for a second or two and then close up again. It totally transformed their appearance.
The shoreline of San Francisco Bay has a bunch of ducks. Of the ones I see a lot of, there are two main species. The Mallards are a duck you will see almost anywhere. The others are the Shovelers. As the name suggests, Shovelers like to shovel around in the murk at the bottom of the water to see what they can find. Their bill is shaped to help with rooting around in this mud. The result can be that their heads are no longer the color of the feathers but are, instead, covered in mud.
There is plenty of muddy shallow water along the shore so the ducks will often take off and head to different feeding grounds. It’s fun to try and get them in mid-flight. If things are closer, they will save energy and paddle to their next spot. The best shots are when they come up covered in mud. They look almost surprised by what a mess they are!
This seems to be a really good year for sea life. Having had a really successful trip out watching whales from Monterey Bay, the whales have decided to come closer. There have been sightings of humpbacks inside San Francisco Bay this year. More recently, my friend Roger has seen them feeding on the coast just south of the city. I joined him for a while. We could see a number of the humpbacks lunge feeding just off the beach. They were a little far from us but we still had a good view.
The whales start below the surface and surge upwards with their mouths open grabbing a mouth full of water and fish. They then spot out the water and eat the remnants. We found that the seagulls were the guide to where the whales would be next. They would mill around, awaiting the next feeding, hoping to get a spare fish in the process. As they spotted the whale coming to the surface, they would all converge and this would be the guide to where the whale would be next. Sometimes, the whale was just coming up for breath so you never knew which it would be. When there is only one whale, it tends to alternate although not always. With more than one, it is a guess.
A few days later, I was out with Nancy and we decided to see if there was any activity. The previous spot was not showing any sign of whales inshore. A couple of spouts further out but nothing feeding in the shallows. Instead we tried Pacifica where they sometimes come in near the pier. Again, nothing. We were just starting to drive off when I saw what appeared to be a spout inshore. I parked up and wandered over to see if there was anything. Nancy stayed in the car but knew something was up when she saw me turn and run back to the car. A whale was in the surf feeding.
We moved along the beach watching the whale burst to the surface and grab mouthfuls of water and fish. A lot of people quickly gathered to watch the feeding. The birds were still the clue but now we were down on the level of the waves so sometimes things got obscured by the water. Even so, we were right there to see what was going on. Soon the whale appeared to be full and moved offshore. It was still swimming around near the pier when we headed off. I don’t know whether this was a regular feature or we got lucky but it was very cool to watch.
The focus of a trip like the one we took with Monterey Bay Whale Watch is to see the whales. However, you can always come across some other creatures as you go on your way. Heading back in to the marina, we passed a Sea Otter mother and her pup. She was diving on food and leaving the pup to bob up on the surface. She would bring some food and then dive down. I was up at the front of the boat when we saw them. The early evening light looked great on them. Of course, as we passed them, our shadow took the good light off them just when they were in the best location to get a shot. I did head to the back of the boat as we stopped to see if I could get some other shots. We soon left them to their thing, though.