Posted by: Anne Murray | July 29, 2013

Cruising the Salish Sea from Bellingham WA

Bridge over Deception Pass, WA

Bridge over Deception Pass, WA

Last Saturday, I joined a birdwatching cruise out of Bellingham Harbour along with five friends from the Delta Naturalists’ Society.  The cruise is run weekly through the summer by San Juan Cruises, leaving the Alaska Ferry Terminal at Fairhaven at 9.00 am and returning at 4.00 pm (they do whale watching and other cruises too).  We were fortunate in the weather, it was a cloudless, blue sky day, and the water was very calm.

Cruising through Bellingham Bay we observed Pigeon Guillemots and Glaucous-winged Gulls nesting on small islands, and Black Oystercatchers on the shoreline. These species were seen throughout the day, and many of the gulls had fluffy chicks. Glaucous-winged Gulls are the only nesting gull in the area, although we also saw many California Gulls, Heermann’s Gulls (beautiful red-beaked birds, up from Mexico where they breed on the Isla de Rosa) and a scattering of Ring-billed Gulls, Mew Gull and one Herring Gull.

Great Blue Heron day roost

Great Blue Heron day roost

Near the oil refinery at the south end of the bay, we saw hundreds of Great Blue Herons standing at the edge of the shore, as well as many Caspian Terns and  gulls. A small flock of Western Sandpipers skimmed the water’s surface.

Alcids were common as we headed south towards Swinomish Channel and La Conner. Flocks of Rhinoceros Auklets were the most numerous, while Pigeon Guillemots were common around the rocky islets, Once we were in the deeper water around Deception Pass and Lopez Island we saw pairs of Marbled Murrelets and even a solitary Tufted Puffin – an unusual sighting for the cruise!

Bird island in Bellingham Bay

Bird island in Bellingham Bay

A highlight of the trip was watching a pair of Ospreys bringing fish to a chick, and carefully feeding it. Their nest was on top of a channel marker.

Osprey nest with adults and a chick

osprey nest

Osprey pair at nest on channel marker

The scenery was very diverse, from the wide, open waters of Bellingham Bay, through the long, narrow passage of Swinomish Channel, with skittering Spotted Sandpipers, Cliff and Barn Swallows and two Northern Harriers soaring over the grasslands, to the rugged cliffs and waters of Deception Pass, Whidbey Island and Lopez Island.  We returned northward via the shores of San Juan Island.  Bird islands, covered in guano, had Black Turnstones, a couple of Surfbirds and dozens of nesting Pelagic and Double-crested Cormorants.

View of Mount Baker

View of Mount Baker

I saw forty bird species on the trip, as well as many Harbor Seals and a few Harbor Porpoises.  Victor, the birdwatching guide has a blog of the year’s trips here.  They hope to run the tours next year, if demand warrants and the last trip this year is August 24.



  1. wow thatsalota birds!!

  2. Hello Anne,
    Enjoyed your article in the Peace Arch News concerning the Great blue herons. Did you know that there is a heronry in White Rock?

    Also, thanks for letting us know about the website


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