Sunday, October 7, 2012

Sea Bird Feeding Frenzy on the Olympic Peninsula


A feeding frenzy of sea birds, Kalaloch Beach, Olympic Peninsula, WA; 8/2/2012.

You can see some birds on the shore in the lower left center portion of the photo,  Kalaloch Beach, Olympic Peninsula, WA; 8/2/2012. 
While holing up in one of the Kalaloch Beach cabins in the Olympic Peninsula National Park last August, I scanned the beach for bird activity. It was already getting late in the day. The sun was low behind a bank of thick marine clouds; therefore, it wasn't particularly good photography light, but I saw a large congregation of birds (Above) far out on the shoreline during a low-tide period. You know me, I can't pass up the opportunity to try to find some new birds. So I hiked out on the sandy beach at least a quarter mile towards the bird activity by the shore.
As I venture closer to the shore birds, I became slightly irritated with some people purposely running at the birds causing them to fly off in a flurry of squawks and wing beats. The flock flew off to a different location along the shore about a half mile away. So I obediently followed their course. Fortunately for me, this new location seemed a better spot. The flock joined another flock which seemed more diverse. 
Gulls and Pelicans on the shore, Kalaloch Beach, Olympic Peninsula, WA; 8/2/2012.
As I closed in on this new location, initially I saw just the gulls on the shore. Soon I saw there were Brown Pelicans with ate least four different species of Gulls (Western, California, Heerman's, and Glaucaus-winged) and a couple of Caspian Terns. This group of birds on the shore (Above) was just the beginning. As I started taking pictures in this low light, I noticed more bird out in the water. There were birds floating in the water near the shore, then another flotilla of birds further out. The more I looked into the gray light, I saw that there must have been thousands of birds and they were weren't just passively hanging out. They were there for a reason. There was a lot of flying back and forth, and diving, as they were following an obvious food source in the water (Top photo - Feeding Frenzy). I guessed sardines, but thought that they were more of a warmer southern climate fish.  On the hike out, there was much evidence of shell fish on the beach (Below), which would explain the large number of gulls on the beach.

A crab on the Kalaloch Beach, Olympic Peninsula, WA; 8/2/2012.

What was left of a crab after the gulls had their way, Kalaloch Beach, Olympic Peninsula, WA; 8/2/2012.
But there was much more feeding activity in the water. I thought perhaps there were a lot of shell fish in the water as well, but I saw many birds flying by with small silvery fish in their bills.
Gulls and other sea birds diving for their dinner, Kalaloch Beach, Olympic Peninsula, WA; 8/2/2012.
The first layer of birds were the Gulls, Terns and Pelicans on the beach. The second layer of birds were the birds dive-bombing the surf near the shore (Above and Below). There were some Sooty Shearwaters and Caspian Terns also in the mix.
The sea birds were fussing at each other, no doubt competing for prime dinner fare; Kalaloch Beach, Olympic Peninsula, WA; 8/2/2012.
Murres, Murrelets, and Auklets, Kalaloch Beach, Olympic Peninsula, WA; 8/2/2012.
 A bit further out away from the crashing surf were another layer of sea birds joining this feeding frenzy. I didn't immediately recognize all the birds that were present, but later after analyzing my images with lots zooming-in and highlighting, I was able to identify lots of Common Murres, and a few Thick-billed Murres, Pigeon Guillemots, Marbled Murrelets, and Cassin's Auklets.
More sea birds, even a Tufted Puffin (right center) even further out, Kalaloch Beach, Olympic Peninsula, WA; 8/2/2012.
Then there was a third layer of birds even further out (Above). With more zooming-in and highlighting this layer, I was able to identify a couple of Tufted Puffins and Rhinoceros Auklets, and there were some more Shearwaters, but I wasn't able to know exactly what kind, although I suspected Sootys. Also in this layer were a group of rocks that were covered in birds - mostly Gulls and Pelicans with some Alcids surfing the crashing waves into these rocks.
Brown Pelicans and Gulls resting on the rocks, Kalaloch Beach, Olympic Peninsula, WA; 8/2/2012.
Altogether my little venture into the gray evening netted 14 sea birds, six of which were added to my life list. I didn't expect such a windfall (waterfall?) of avian life. I expected Gulls and Terns at best. Indeed, I was surprised to see Brown Pelicans this far North, and even more surprised to see so many Pelagic, which I wold never have thought to find so close to shore. These are birds that I thought I would need to be aboard a ocean-going vessel to ever observe. Most of my photos were not very good, but a few of the better ones below...
Heerman's Gulls,Kalaloch Beach, Olympic Peninsula, WA; 8/2/2012.

Western Gull (left) and California Gull (right), Kalaloch Beach, Olympic Peninsula, WA; 8/2/2012.
Not a bird, but I liked the sea stacks with the backdrop of the setting sun peaking through the thick clouds, Ruby Beach, Olympic Peninsula, WA; 8/2/2012.

1 comment:

~Val said...

LOVE the third picture, with the pelican surrounded by gulls in that cool evening light. Crab photos are nice, too!