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Author Topic: Sea Mammals and Birds seen on the Webcam  (Read 12152 times)
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winterwren
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« on: October 03, 2012, 01:47:26 AM »

So, we've had a few good discussions on the chat lately about what we see on the water now that the cam is raised. We're getting a pretty good view of some of the seabirds and sea mammals. Seabirds are my passion, so I know a little bit about who is out there these days. I'm thinking that it might be useful to post this information here so it reaches more people and becomes part of the record.

So, here are some of the critters you might see and some ways to tell them apart.
Thank you, most notably, to Non4now, aka Typos, and to Paintnut, for asking the questions and helping me put this into words.
All the photos are my own; I took some of them from the beach and some from a boat.

First, the sea mammals
(I'll make a separate posting for the birds):

-Orcas swim a good distance away from shore, well past the rocky shelf that gets exposed at low tide. They have tall dorsal fins that are visible every time they surface. The whole group surfaces in quick sequence, twice or three times, and then they disappear for a few minutes before surfacing again, sometimes a long distance away.




-Dolphins usually move in large groups, are fast swimmers, and seem to bounce from the water. They might disappear underwater for a short period of time but mostly they stay close to the surface when they travel. They are a much rarer sighting than whales around here. I don't believe anyone has ever seen them on the cam yet.


-Sea lions usually move in groups of 2 to a dozen, though occasionally you might see a solitary individual. They stay close to the surface when they travel, so you see ripples marking their position almost constantly, and they surface every few seconds to breathe. They move slower than the zoomy dolphins, but the impression is one of strong, steady progress.




-Seals haul out in groups, but in the water they move as individuals, independently of each other. Outside their roosting areas, you usually see only one at a time. Only the head is visible, and then they sink out of sight, like a submarine, and reappear somewhere else a minute or two later. There are no haul-out areas within view of the cam, so you are unlikely to see a seal on land. Sometimes seals slap their flippers on the water; it's one of the ways they communicate. We have heard the splashes on cam, especially at night. If you see some isolated splashes on the water, with nothing big obviously jumping, that might be a seal.




-I didn't think we'd be able to see otters from the cam, but we can! These are River Otters; Sea Otters were extirpated from this area long ago. Otters are about the size of a largeish cat, but imagine a long and skinny cat! They are very social and often hang out in groups of 2 to 6 individuals. On land they move somewhat sinuously, and are the same colour as the seaweed, so they might be hard to spot. In the water, they mostly stay near shore. They disappear underwater to catch fish, which they eat while afloat if they can. If the fish is large, they bring it ashore to eat. You can sometimes see an otter 'spyhopping', which is to say that they extend their neck way out of the water to check what's going on around them.



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winterwren
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« Post / Reply #1 on: October 03, 2012, 05:28:19 PM »

Birds, Part 1

Now here are the birds you might see these days. Winter residents are arriving daily as I write this (in mid-September), so this list will change and it might become much more difficult to tell who's who.

-Gulls... The gulls are always with us. The large Larus gulls are what we hear and see most. Mew gulls are a bit smaller and sound just like their name. Bonaparte gulls are tiny, less than half of the size of a large Larus gull. Gulls make very different sounds depending on whether they're feeding or just arguing. When they are feeding, the sound of a flock of gulls is constant and higher pitched. It would also sound fainter than the shore-based arguments because it would come from further away (assuming that the gulls are feeding on a ball of herring somewhere offshore). Gulls of all kinds might stand cheek by jowl on any given rock.

(Two large Larus Gulls on the left, and a bunch of little Bonaparte's Gulls.)



-Cormorants are a bit bigger than gulls, dark overall, and very upright in their stance. They like hanging out on Big Rock and Sandstone Point. They often congregate with the gulls. When they swim, their body has a very low profile and their long neck is prominent.  



-Harlequins often swim quite close to shore, and spend time standing or sitting on the rocks. They sometimes sit close to the gulls. They appear small and dark on cam. These days they're hanging out in pairs or groups of up to a dozen, maybe two dozen at the most. Later on in the year they will congregate in larger flocks and will become harder to tell apart from scoters.



-Scoters are also dark in colour. They hang out in medium-sized flocks through the winter - a dozen to several dozens. You will mostly see them further away from shore than the harlequins. The whole flock dives in quick sequence, seeming to collapse and vanish, and then they all reappear together. I've never seen then come ashore.



In early April, the Scoters gather into  gigantic flocks before flying off to their nesting grounds... We'll probably be able to see that from the cam!


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winterwren
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« Post / Reply #2 on: October 05, 2012, 12:10:50 AM »

Birds, Part 2


-Last week (mid-September) I saw a flock of Common Mergansers from the cam. They are fairly large birds, and the males have a dark head and a white body with bold black markings. The females and young are mostly brown. They like resting on shore, in groups of up to 8 or so. When they swim around they drift apart; they don't stay in a tight flock like scoters or harlequins.


Later on in the year, other sea birds with white bodies and dark heads will come up to confuse the issue: Scaups and Goldeneyes most notably. They are much smaller birds but it's hard to tell the size without a gull obligingly standing by for scale.


-We see Common Loons very often from the cam. Probably always the same loon, too: they are very territorial year-round. Except right now; I've seen up to 6 of them at a time these past few weeks (I'm writing this in mid-September), but always a distance from each other, not in a tight flock. Through the winter they are solitary and in the spring they pair up here before leaving for the nesting grounds. Common Loons are very large, and at this time of year they appear mostly dark unless they are tipping over to preen or shake their wings - then you see their white belly. They swim for a while, then take a long dive, often emerging a long distance away. Loons will change to their winter plumage soon and will be harder to see from the cam.
Summer plumage...


Winter plumage...



-Typos spotted a smaller bird that seemed loon-like. It was probably a Pacific Loon, which is only about two-thirds of the size of a Common Loon. The behaviour is similar.



-And then there are the Canada Geese, of course. You'll see them in flocks, close to shore or on shore. They never dive, just dip their heads underwater. People also saw Brants from the cam. They are a bit smaller than Canada Geese and their head, neck and breast is dark, with no white patches.

-I've been seeing Red-necked Grebes offshore near the cam on a regular basis this fall. These behave much like the loons but they are smaller and have a longer neck. Only the adults have the russet colour on their neck. The young are all in neutral colours. So this could also be the loon-like bird that Typos spotted. There seems to be a pair residing in the waters near the cam.


That's about all I can think of for now.
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