Spotting Some of the Most Beautiful Birds in the Pacific Northwest

06-20-2018

Mareth Griffith, Lead Expedition Guide, Wilderness Discoverer

This week the Wilderness Discoverer has been traveling the Pacific Northwest on a bird-themed cruise. We could easily have called it the “sunshine cruise” since that’s basically what we ended up with.

The clouds broke on Saturday evening as we made our way through the Hiram M. Chittenden locks in Seattle, and stayed with us throughout the entire week. It’s rare that we get such a lovely stretch of sunny weather.

Photographing birds in the Pacific Northwest

In addition to the warmth, we also had several passengers add birds to their life list - most notably, the colorful and graceful Harlequin Duck.

These ducks, named for their dramatic and colorful breeding plumage, have spent the latter part of the winter courting and pairing up with their mates, and are now beginning to disperse inland to the swift, secluded freshwater streams where they nest.

Harlequins are some of the most easily observable of the west coast’s sea ducks, as they tend to be found close to shore. Because these ducks breed on fast-flowing streams, they have taken up the habit (unusual among sea ducks) of getting out of the water to rest whenever they’re tired. This tendency to seek out sheltered rocks close to the tide line whenever they’re not foraging means they’re often found close to shore.

At the beginning of the breeding season, the male harlequins are still sporting their beautiful breeding colors of red and blue, interspersed with striking white markings around their face. The female, browner and more demure, eschews the red and blue in favor of a chocolate brown coloring, but shares her mate’s white beauty mark on her cheek. Though the two look strikingly different this time of year, after breeding, the males will quickly molt into a more camouflaged eclipse plumage, ending the summer looking identical to his mate.

These were only one of a number of sea ducks that we were able to spend time with this week - also spotting the puffin-like colors of the Surf Scoter, sighting the mohawk-like ragged plumes of the Red-Breasted Merganser, the golden tufts of the grebes, the white wing patches of the Pigeon Guilliemots, and the stately white necklace of the Common Loon.

Come join us on a future birding cruise and share in the abundance of colorful waterfowl nesting, wintering, and migrating through the Salish Sea.



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