Birding in the San Juans

Baby bird in the San Juan IslandsSea kayaking from San Juan Island allows participants a perfect opportunity to observe a wide variety of different marine mammals from the safety of stable double kayaks. You’ll have opportunities to view killer whales to Dall’s porpoise, harbor seals, river otter and other marine mammals.

It also hosts over 290 different species of birds that use the islands and surrounding habitat for breeding and nesting as well as fall and winter migrations. The clear waters, strong currents, diverse intertidal zones and rocky and tree lined shore of the San Juan Islands provide excellent habitat for a wide variety of different species. The islands are also host to one of the largest bald eagle nesting populations in the continental United States.

A group of 83 islands in the archipelago are designated as National Wildlife Refuges. These islands total 454 acres and are divided into four habitat types: reefs, rocks, grassy and forested islands.

Our tours are designed to take us into close but respectful distances of these small islands. The wide stable platform of a double kayak coupled with a small pair of binoculars provides our guests with a great chance to view the resident birdlife without disturbing them in their natural habitat.

While paddling on the water we’ll enjoy excellent opportunities for seeing a number of different alcids or seabirds that tend to use their stubby wings to “fly” under water in search of their prey. These may include rhinoceros auklets, the occasional tufted puffin, pigeon guillemots, common murres and marbeled murrelets.

Photo of wood duck in Pacific watersOther diving birds (that swim underwater by pushing forward, seal-like with their feet) include three species of cormorants: double crested, pelagic and brandt. Three common shorebirds seen during the summer months include black oystercatchers with its distinctive long orange bill, the killdeer and one of my personal favorites, the strikingly colored harlequin duck.

On the water or skulking among the rich feast of the intertidal are various gulls including the glaucous winged and bonaparte gulls. In the corvid family the NW crow and the occasional raven can be seen casting about for food as well. The noisy chattering of a belted kingfisher is also a familiar sight.

The island also has its share of birds of prey. Bald eagles and osprey nest in large trees and snags close to the water’s edge. The islands host between 40 to 50 breeding pairs of bald eagles. With the banning of DDT peregrine falcons are starting to make a comeback in the islands as well with 6-7 breeding pair spotted within the last year. Turkey Vultures with their distinctive silvery gray undersides can be seen lazily gliding overhead.

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