Possession Sound again, April 14 2019

Discussion in 'Trip Reports' started by alexsidles, Apr 14, 2019.

  1. alexsidles

    alexsidles Paddler

    Jan 10, 2009
    Seattle WA
    I had so much fun visiting the spring-time resident gray whales last month, I decided to go again. Now that I know better how the whales behave, I was able to find one after just a couple hours' paddling, as opposed to the overnight trip I took last month.

    01 Lovely Possession Sound.JPG
    01 Lovely Possession Sound. I waited for perfect conditions to return to Possession Sound. It can get a little choppy on a south wind.

    02 Ospreys atop pilings.JPG
    02 Ospreys atop pilings. The north part of Port of Everett is my best place in the state for ospreys. Dozens of pairs of these beautiful raptors nest on the pilings.

    03 Cormorant atop pilings.JPG
    03 Double-crested cormorant atop pilings. The pilings are left over from the timber and shingle mills erected during the port's salad days a hundred years ago.

    04 Dunlin.JPG
    04 Suspicious dunlin stare me down. These are transitioning into their breeding plumage. Once their transition is done, they will be a rich brown on top and spanking white below, with bold, black spots on their bellies.

    05 Bald eagle atop pilings.JPG
    05 Bald eagle atop pilings. It's amazing how well the eagles get along with the ospreys. You'd think they would consider one another competitors, but they just ignore each other.

    06 Western grebes.JPG
    06 Western grebes. The horned and red-necked grebes are already 90% transitioned, but unfortunately I wasn't able to get pictures of their spectacular breeding plumages. I was fortunate, however, to meet these handsome fellows about halfway to Hat Island.

    07 Rhinoceros auklet.JPG
    07 Rhinoceros auklet. This gentleman (or lady) is ready for a mate! I saw another auklet nearby, but I couldn't tell if the two of them were paired off or merely foraging in one another's company.

    What a difference a month makes. In March, I encountered tons of scoters of all three species. In April, however, I found all the black scoters gone, as well as half the white-winged. The surf scoters, though, had actually increased their numbers—I found hundreds.

    The grebes had not only changed their plumage; they had changed their behavior. Horned grebes are usually one of the most human-tolerant species on the water, but of the forty or so I encountered today, not one let me get within 200 yards. I'm not sure if this has something to do with their new plumage, or if it was just some kind of coincidence, but they sure did seem shy. It's too bad—I would have loved to get a little closer to see their magnificent tufts.

    I crossed most of the way to Hat Island before I finally found the gray whale. I spotted its spout at a distance of about two miles and hurried over. There are several "sounder" gray whales in Possession Sound right now, so I have no idea if the one I found this time was the same one from last month. If it was, it had moved a couple miles inland from where I previously encountered it. It was now just a couple miles out from the south end of Jetty Island.

    I was proud of myself for having found it on my own. Gray whales are harder to spot than humpbacks or orcas. Last month, I paddled past the whale without seeing it. I only found it by following the whale-watching boats. This time, however, I found the spout myself. It was wonderful to enjoy the whale's company without the distraction of a whale boat's chugging engine and exhaust fumes.

    The whale was much more active this time than before. It dove more frequently and for longer periods. Perhaps this one was foraging, whereas the previous one was resting. I still don't know enough about whale behavior to say. At any rate, this whale was considerably more difficult to photograph, because it exposed less of its body for shorter lengths of time.

    08 Gray whale spouts.JPG
    08 Gray whale surfaces. This whale had a deep, blasting breath.

    09 Gray whale near Hat Island.JPG
    09 Gray whale near Hat Island. This whale wandered across a much wider area than my earlier whale.

    10 Gray whale Possession Sound.JPG
    10 Whale breath. These animals are so beautiful and dignified.

    11 San Juan Clipper.JPG
    11 Here come some more marine mammals. Once the whale-watching boats showed up, I cleared out. A gray whale's company is best enjoyed alone.

    The whale had drawn me far to the south of my launch point, but not quite far enough to justify using the south entrance of Jetty Island. Instead of paddling all the up to the north entrance and all the way down to my car, I landed on the outside of Jetty Island and portaged across. In retrospect, it was a little silly to undertake a 20-minute portage just to save a 40-minute paddle, but it ended up bring a lucky decision. I had all of Jetty Island to myself, and I encountered a large flock of dunlin and black-bellied plovers foraging like crazy on the beach. I crept as close as I dared, which was not very close, and spent half an hour enjoying the company of these lovely shorebirds.

    12 Dunlin and plovers.JPG
    12 Dunlin and plovers. It's incredible that such small birds can undertake such a long migration. And they do it twice each year!

    13 Caspian terns.JPG
    13 Caspian terns, dunlin, and plovers. Arctic terns used to nest on Jetty Island, but they've been gone for decades. Lucky for us, we can still enjoy these handsome Caspians.

    Last edited: Apr 15, 2019
    stagger, chodups and Astoriadave like this.
  2. benson

    benson Paddler

    Aug 28, 2011
    Sequim, Wa
    Great photos...thanks for sharing! Interesting note on the grebes. I can believe breeding season may have something to do with it.
    chodups likes this.