Alcids at Admiralty Inlet

Today we spent about four hours at the lighthouse at Point Wilson in Port Townsend, WA.

The tide was running out strongly and there were hundreds of birds flying into Puget Sound from the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Unfortunately, they were far out near the limit of our scope and identification was difficult. Patience proved to be the key.

Every once in a while birds would fly by fairly close to shore and some, especially the Pigeon Guillemot, scoters, mergansers, loons and grebes, would land within easy binocular distance. The excitement really ramped up when one of the “flying footballs” (the alcids) would streak by. After a while it became fairly easy to tell the Common Murres from the murrelets and auklets, even at great distance, but still, we wanted to see definitive looks of the birds before making our identifications. We waited and scoped some more.

A Common Murre landed and drifted with the current less than 50 yards from shore and we got great views of its finest details. But, we had already counted that bird and we kept hoping that a murrelet or auklet would come in close. Finally, we got our wish. Several pairs and small groups of Marbled Murrelets and Rhinoceros Auklets drifted by close enough for us to get good scope views of their defining field marks.

Still, we were not quite done. We wanted to try to see Ancient Murrelet and Tufted Puffin. We waited and watched some more until we saw a pair of Ancient Murrelets far out in the current. Their plain, gray backs (lack of white patches near the rump and shoulders) and blackish crowns were visible and allowed us a confident tick of the species. We never did see a puffin, however.

A little later we walked along the rocky shore and turned up several Surfbirds mixed in with a flock of Black Turnstones. This gave us four new species for the day.

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