Reader Ed Kroc sent some “vacation” snaps from Vancouver Island; his notes are indented:
I just got back from a few days around Pacific Rim National Park on Vancouver Island and thought I would send along some wildlife photos.
The first shot is of a Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), mid-descent. Someone was cleaning fish near one of the docks in Tofino and throwing the spare parts down to the shore for the gulls and crows to fight over. Naturally, the eagles also came sniffing around, but they kept their distance at first as the Glaucous-winged Gulls (Larus glaucescens) and Northwestern Crows (Corvus caurinus) are too adept at swarming them. Bald Eagles can actually be major pushovers. But this one floated down to the shore, then sidled up to a fish head being picked at by a few gulls and crows. Once they got into a bit of a squabble, the eagle pounced on the fish head and swooped up into the air with it. The gulls and crows fought back immediately, though, and the eagle dropped the remains just a few metres away in the harbour. A couple gulls fished it out and continued to pick at and fight over it.
Next, here are two shots of a Brandt’s Cormorant (Phalacrocorax penicillatus). We see lots of Pelagic (P. pelagicus) and Double-crested Cormorants (P. auritus) in Vancouver, but never Brandt’s. Confusingly, these guys are the truly pelagic species, always sticking to open ocean waters, whereas the Pelagic Cormorant seems to prefer calmer, inner waters like the Strait of Georgia.
We are just entering the cormorant breeding season, and you can see this bird’s lovely blue throat patch and white neck-plumes, only visible for the few short breeding months. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any when it wasn’t raining or cloudy, so the colours aren’t as vibrant as they should be. In the first photo, the cormorant has just surfaced from the Tofino harbour with a fresh fish catch, maybe some kind of turbot.
On the south side of the national park, in the town of Ucluelet, there was a lively group of young, male California Sea Lions (Zalophus californianus) hauled out on an industrial dock for several days, in perfect picture-taking position. I was staying at a rental unit about 2 kilometres away, but awoke the first morning to the sound of their barking. I spent that morning tracking them down and finding the best shooting spot (through the salmonberry bushes just outside the fencing of the industrial yard whose dock the sea lions had commandeered).
I don’t know much about sea lion social behaviour, but I gather that these types of “parties” are not uncommon among young groups of males in the spring. Most seemed like they just wanted to sleep, basking in the sun, happy to rest their head or their butt on a fellow napper, but a few kept pushing and causing brief but intense barking matches. Occasionally, a new sea lion would show up and cause a real disturbance, as in the last photo. I watched one spend 30 minutes trying to find a spot to haul out on the dock without being barked at by half a dozen other sea lions unwilling to make room.
Finally, I was lucky enough to spot a mother Killer Whale (Orcinus orca) with at least one, maybe two, young orcas swimming just off the rugged coast at the Amphitrite Lighthouse in Ucluelet. I saw three fins, two small and one massive, and was able to snap a few photos of the massive one as she surfaced before slipping behind the bend of the rocky coastline. This photo was taken from about 500 metres away, but you can still make out the two notches taken out of her dorsal fin. I am not a whale expert, but I do know that such features are routinely used to identify individuals in BC waters. I’m sure this individual is well-known, as she was positively huge. The picture gives no scale, but I had no problem seeing her from the distance I was at. Her dorsal fin seemed disproportionately huge compared to everything else around.