It’s about that time of year again here in western Washington. We beginning to see migratory birds resting and feeding here on their way to Alaska. The Ursa Major won’t be far behind them as we head north to Alaska from Seattle on May 1.
Two bird species of interest that come to mind as more permanent to southeast Alaska are the black oystercatcher, (seen in the above photo), and pigeon guillemot. Neither bird is considered as glamorous as the bald eagle, or the elusive tufted or horned puffins we find in southeast Alaska, but they remain among our favorite bird species to observe.
Both the black oystercatcher and pigeon guillemot have their place in the food web in southeast Alaska, and we see them often from the Ursa Major (and our sea kayaks!) on the rocky shores of the islands of Frederick Sound, (north of Petersburg). In the case of the black oystercatcher, its long, sharp orange bill is used to extract delicious creatures (such as oysters) from the rocky intertidal zone, providing an abundance of food for this keen bird.
Pigeon guillemots on the other hand, (seen in the above photo), have black and white bodies, with bright orange feet. They appear as awkward fliers when they initially are attempting a water launch, but are effective and graceful swimmers as they search for bait fish and other food near their nests. Pigeon guillemots typically nest above the high tide mark on rocky shores to have the best perspective on both prey and predators. At night, they typically call out to each other, and their gentle voices make for some of the best sounds to fall asleep to.
On a side note, we also see two migratory hummingbirds species in southeast Alaska in the summer, the rufous and Anna’s hummingbird (less common). The above photo of two male rufous hummingbirds visiting our hummingbird feeder aboard Ursa Major was taken during a fight over the feeder. Rufous hummingbirds do not remain in southeast Alaska long after their arrival in late May, with the females and their young departing as early as July for their winter grounds in Mexico, followed by the males in mid-August.