Our San Juan Islands birding tour on August 28, 2009 found a real rarity for our part of Washington. Among approximately 3000 marine birds of various species feeding on the Salmon Bank were several dozen Sooty Shearwaters as shown in the picture below. This species is usually restricted to open ocean waters and seldom penetrates into inland waters. We think some recent heavy sea fog and strong onshore winds created the conditions to drive the shearwaters into the San Juan Islands.
Favorable conditions persisted as Monika Wieland reported an even larger invasion of shearwaters on September 7 that she believes numbered several hundred. She even photographed a new species for the San Juan Islands checklist: Pink-footed Shearwater.
Among the other species that local bird book author and birding guide Mark Lewis and his guests sighted on the tour that day included Parasitic Jaegers (both light and melanistic phases), Heermann’s Gulls, Common Murres, Pigeon Guillemots, Marbled Murrelets, Rhinoceros Auklets, Surf Scoters, Harlequin Ducks, Black Turnstones, Surfbirds, Black Oystercatchers, three species of Cormorants, and many others.
Bird watching trips in the San Juan Islands are productive all year. Fall and winter are the peak times for diversity of open water marine species.