This week’s photo, taken August 11, 2013 on the Dungeness Spit along the north shore of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, features a yawning HEERMANN’S GULL, the only North American gull with both a red bill and a mostly gray body.
Saturday afternoon, we take the ferry from Edmonds to Kingston, then drive to the quaint town of Port Townsend, where at 6pm, we climb on board the “Glacier Spirit” and join 45 other bird-watchers and sea lovers for a 3-hour evening boat cruise. Sunset arrives at 8:33pm, so visibility is good during most of our sea voyage. We travel 7 miles to Protection Island, a 400-acre National Wildlife Refuge, where thousands of seabirds nest, including GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULLS, PIGEON GUILLEMOTS and RHINOCEROS AUKLETS. Many birds nest in burrows dug into the bluffs of the virtually rodent-free island. We are not allowed to set foot on the federally protected island, so from the boat we continuously scan the waters for birds, especially the number one species most of us hope to see tonight – a Tufted Puffin. A small number of these clown-faced birds nest on the island.
While our leader provides an informative and constant commentary (via microphone) on the bird life, mammals, and history of the area, his able assistant kneels at the bow of the boat and serves as a spotter. 90 minutes into our cruise, as we float just off shore from Protection Island, the spotter sees a bird with a bright orange bill sitting on the water, and he yells, “PUFFIN AT 3 O’CLOCK!” Although I do not get decent photos, I and nearly everybody else do get brief looks of the only TUFTED PUFFIN that most passengers will see this evening. With every rolling wave, the puffin disappears momentarily from our view. Eventually, it dives underwater, and we are unable to relocate it.
The next morning, Laura and I walk 3 miles along the Dungeness Spit, one of the longest natural sandspits in the world. Hundreds of HEERMANN’S and GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULLS lounge on the driftwood that’s scattered along the shore, 3 SANDERLINGS tirelessly forage in the sand, and a WHIMBREL poses briefly on the beach before taking flight.
On the way home, during the Puget Sound ferry crossing, we spot some interesting birds on the water below, including a few COMMON MURRES, a life bird for both of us.