Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Orcas Island. Day 2 (8-7-08)

We slept like stones, all five of us.  Lee and I were awakened by a strange, high pitched twittering sound. It reminded us of the sounds hawks make back home.  We'd been told by our hostess, Elizabeth, that a pair of eagles nested in one of the trees on the property.  Sure enough, the twittering belonged to the pair!  Lee caught a picture of them on the beach during low tide.  They were sharing breakfast.
We don't know if this is Mr. or Mrs. Eagle.  Seeing them this close might be old hat to the native islanders, but it was a major treat for us.  We were awakened by them, all three days we were there.
We couldn't resist getting a picture of this little bird and his wild bed-head.  He was a good sport about it.  It's a testament to how soundly we all slept.
We got all excited and thought we'd found proof of the sea otters that Elizabeth had mentioned the night before.  After more investigation, we found that these prints were left on the beach by a raccoon.  
We spent the early part of the day exploring the beach below the house and the the town of East Sound.  We tortured the boys by making them go in all the kitschy little shops.  We bought a pint of enormous blueberries for just 3 bucks--a steal if you ask me. The highlight of the day was still before us.

At 4:30 we made our way back to Orcas Village at the other end of the island.  We'd arranged to go on a whale watching trip with Eclipse Charters.
Dan and Denise Wilks are the owners.  They couldn't have been nicer folks.  We'd had a mix up earlier in the day about our reservations.  It seems that Denise's sister had misplaced our reservation for 1:00.  We all agreed that going on the 5:00 tour would be just fine.  Denise thought we were doing them some big favor by agreeing to switch.  She wanted to comp us the price of one of our tickets and gave us free hats and a t-shirt.  It was all unnecessary, but she insisted.
At 5:00, Dan pushed away from the dock with 50 people on board.  We were in search of Orcas aka Killer Whales.
We passed by a nesting site of Cormorants.  If you click on the picture, you'll be able to see the huge nests they make out of large sticks.  When we passed by, I thought they were made out of grasses and small sticks.  Upon closer inspection, it almost looks like driftwood.
This is a lighthouse on the northern tip of San Juan Island.  It's so much more barren than Orcas Island, but it gets pelted by northern winds and rain.
James is on the lookout for black dorsal fins.  Luckily, the various tour companies and fishing boats are willing to pass along information regarding where they've seen whales.  That keeps them all from wasting a lot of gas while looking for the whales.
Captain Dan in the wheelhouse.
Okay, this young elephant seal is out of place in the picture order.  He's supposed to be right before the picture of the boat.  He was "hauled out" right below the deck where we were waiting to get on the boat.  He was all by himself, which had the locals worried that he was sick.  Turns out he had recently moulted on another island and was just resting.   
We found them!  Dorsal fins ahead.  There is a federal law that says boaters are not to get within 100 yards of any sea mammal.  If they come to you, it's another story. There are 3 pods of whales on the Pacific coast/ Puget sound.  Pods J, K and L.  The whales in these pictures are from J-Pod.  I found out something I didn't know about these pods---they only eat salmon and herring.  Really.  No seals, no sea birds, no sea otters, just salmon and herring.  I spent a lot of time wondering about their fate if we, as humans, messed up the salmon population.  The orcas that you see on the Discovery channel chasing seals right up onto the beach are from what are called Transient pods.  Each pod is lead by a matriarch whale.  She is most always the oldest in the group--similar to elephants.  This year, the matriarch of J-pod did not return.  She has been studied and spotted for many years and they estimate her age to be over 90 years old. 

Mother and calf, J-42.  She was born in May of 2007 and named after our tour company, Eclipse.
Here, mom leaves the calf in a quick surge for salmon.
A brave, very large male comes close to the boat.  


  1. Very cool pics. Those are memories that will last a lifetime. DD

  2. I've learned a few things too! I had no idea orcas live so long. We have cormorants here but I didn't know they made such nests. Next time we're out I'm going to ask if they do the same thing here. I wonder if the height is because of the amount of rain fall? I'm enjoying your vacation!

  3. Who needs roosters when you have bald eagles to wake you in the morning, right? hehe

    And I adored James' bedhead. So cute! He looks so much like you, too. What a cutie patootie! (But don't tell him I said that. I know about little boys and embarrassment)

    And you know I love the orcas! I've got a few of the 4-footed variety around here. hehe

    Those are awesome photos! What a thrill. Sounds like the trip of a lifetime.

  4. I have never been to that part of the country and love that you are sharing your trip with us.
    You have one adorable bed head boy.

  5. Those are awesome pictures of the whales! I've been on a few whale watches but never got pictures nearly that good. How lucky!

  6. I had no idea the whales lived so long either. The only reason they can track it is because folks have been watching and documenting them for nearly a hundred years. I guess their normal range is 50 years or so.
    The cormorants are strange in the nest building department. The ones on the ferry dock barely build any nest at all. I wondered what kept the chick from tumbling out into the ocean. As you can see, the ones on that tiny island build ginormous nests.

    Lee would trade my roo in for eagles any day! James bedhead was far too fabulous to let go without a picture. Thanks for the compliment.

    We'd never been to the Northwest either. I definitely want to go back.

    Yes, we were very lucky. Thank goodness the tour operators cooperate.

  7. CeeCee, that looks amazing! I bet you guys had an awesome time.

  8. So cool. Those eagles and orcas were amazing. Wow!