Sunday, April 5, 2009

Orcas Widllife

Springtime for me is when everything comes into bloom. Deciduous trees come out of their winter's nap, Flowers start to bloom, Eagles Nesting and the other wonderful sounds of Nature coming alive. I love listening to all the amazing sounds in nature, and when you allow yourself to quiet your mind and slow down, it is amazing at what you can hear. For the last week on the Island spring has been an illusion. It plays spring one day, and then the next day it is winter again. Yet, the last couple of days; I am finally starting to believe that spring is here. The reason I know, is because I am sneezing more. I think it is the pine spores beginning to open that are making me sneeze. Yet I really do not mind, since I love spring in all its glory. For a small Island in the Pacific Northwest, I am amazed at the diversity of wildlife on the Island. I feel very blessed to come home, and hear Bald Eagles cackling away, and the honking of Canada Geese on their way home. Even noisy Stellar Jays make me smile. I have a new favorite shorebird, the Black Oyster catchers. These stylish clowns are very sensitive and like to nest on rocky shores and Islands without Trees. In the middle of Fisherman's Bay in Eastsound is a small Island that is affectionately called Indian Island. Named in honor of the Salish People who are the original inhabitants of the area. These birds are very sensitive, and because this island is so easily accessible by low tide, it is a concern that their nesting will be interrupted. This summer myself and other San Juan County Beachwatchers are going to be part of a study monitoring the Island. I hope to educate others so that they learn to respect the wildlife out there. I have yet to see my first Hummingbird of the spring, yet I have heard rumors that they are buzzing about. Pretty soon the Swallows will return, and I adore watching them, fluttering about catching bugs and hopefully devouring every mosquito they can get their little beaks on. Some of the other wonderful Flighted friends I have seen lately are, Pileated Woodpeckers, a passing Migrating Rough Legged Hawk and quite a few Stellar Jays as well. I never tire of seeing Majestic Bald Eagles collecting their nest material and their love stories in the air. For me it is really an honor to be able to be so close to the diversity we have. This is why I want to do everything to protect our environment, so many generations to come, we can all still enjoy this abundance. We also have abundant Deer on the Island, and since they have no predators, they are starting to display patterns that show they are breeding themselves out. There are many Deer on this Island that have White patches all over them and are starting to look almost like fawns with spots spreading. I have heard this could be from inbreeding. In any case, I always love seeing their gentle and sweet eyes that are so endearing. Another favorite of mine are the River Otters. The River Otters here are Marine foraging river otters who spend a great deal of time in the sea. At first when I saw them, I mistook them for Sea Otters, which are slowly making a comeback to these inland waters, yet by no means common. I have often seen River Otters playing down by some of the beaches which is a joy to watch.. A few times I have mistaken their smaller cousins, the minks for one of them. Yet Minks are smaller and a deeper shade of brown. The Islands most favorite resident of course is the Orcas, or to some still Killer Whales. The name is to me a misnomer as back before they really knew about them, they were believed to be vicious killers for their predation on Marine Mammals. However over the course of the last 30 years, having been studied more, they have discovered that these highly intelligent creatures have very intricate family structures, and the term Killer Whale does not entirely fit them. In fact they are not even whales. They are the largest member of the Dolphin family. Biologists have now classified Orcas into three different sub cultures so to say. Residents, who live in large family groups and stay close together, primarily stay in the same areas most of the year. They are fish eaters, and their preferred dietary choice is Chinook Salmon. Unfortunately the Chinook stalks are endangered, and the food supply for the Orcas is very threatened. They have to travel further now for food, and this is causing them to use up to much energy to travel so far for food. Many of the studies are revealing that their thyroid hormone levels are severely compromised, and they are living off the fat which means essentially they are starving. Also too, their levels of PCB's and PBDE's are very high, which again compromising their immune systems. Males are more susceptible to this since they do not have anyway of releasing these toxins as the females who release by giving birth and passing it on to the newborn calves through their milk. Obviously this is not good either, as the Calves thus have a very high mortality rate, especially firstborns. Transient Orcas, the second type are Marine Mammal Eaters. They live in smaller pods, and their behavior is more unpredictable. They can change direciton at any time, and leave the general area. Another noteable difference is in size. Transients are larger, and have curved Dorsal fins, where as Residents are smaller and have straighter dorsal fins. The third type is the Offshores which are believed to be fish eaters as well, anything from Shark to even Octopus. They also travel in larger groups and live in the open ocean. Little is known about them, due to the fact they live further out at sea. The waters of the Salish Sea are also home to a Healthy population of harbor Seals, somewhere in the numbers of 6,000, also Harbor Porpoise which is less common, and they are very shy and Leary of boats, and then the Dalls Porpoise who resemble small Orcas with their striking Black and White Patterns. Dalls are really fun to watch. They love to Bow ride and sometimes will follow boats for hours. They are the fastest Cetacean on the planet, traveling at speeds up to 35mph. The Islands are a haven for many types of Seabirds, from Cormorants to Pigeon Guillemots with their bright red boots , Grebes, Rhino Aucklets, Murres and other wonderful members or the Alcid family of Birds, the closest thing we have to penguins. For me it is a true gift when you get to live in a place of incredible nature and beauty, and learn to share the magic of mother earth with all her children.

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