Whales! We Saw Whales!

The whales we saw were likely the transient T2C pod minus T2C4. The Center for Whale Research reports an encounter same day, same time, same general location. Apparently these four Orca had been hunting a lone minke whale, but gave up that chase prior to our sighting. (We did hear about others who saw a minke whale a bit farther south.)

This family of Biggs Orca includes Tumbo (T2C2). Tumbo has scoliosis. His family takes care of him–bringing him dinner and circling back to make sure he doesn’t get too far behind. One of Tumbo’s aunts had a condition that caused partial loss of pigmentation and an uncle had a malformed jaw.

It makes me happy to know the names of the whales we saw. I’d still like to see some of our Southern Resident Orcas (now down to a total population of 73 individuals).

Sara Shimazu, one of Maya Legacy’s captains, shares marvelous photos and information about the Orcas of the Salish Sea through patreon, instagram, and facebook. Sara is a great photographer with a vast love for Orca.

I wish someone would create baseball-like cards for Orca. I’d like to be able to flip through them to see if I could ID individuals. (If you know where to obtain these, please let me know.)

Other delights

The whales were a BIG highlight to the day, but it was great in other ways too.

I took my coffee, boots, the wine guys, and a canoe I found on Deadman’s bay down to the tiny beach below our campsite. Bill joined us with his camera. Wine guys off on an adventure!

Looking for Orca

Bill and I usually spend between 5 minutes and 15 minutes at viewpoints. This morning we `resolved to go to Limekiln prepared to observe. We loaded coffee, cookies, scope, binoculars, camera, a waterproof blanket, and field guides into packs and walked down to the lovely observation point.

Limekiln is one of the best places for spotting whales from land. Whoever laid out the picnic tables did a stellar job. They are scattered along the trail. Not obtrusive for trail walkers and offering great views of Haro Straight to table sitters.

I would have been proud of us, even if we didn’t see whale. We stayed and watched for several hours. We met Victoria Obermeyer, videographer and co-producer of Co-Extinction a documentary about Southern Resident Orca. AND we saw whales!

Disaster averted

Suffused with the beauty of the world, I took a short solo walk down the little path off the south end of the meadow. I exchanged hellos with the couple smoking their picnic and walked to the point above the larger bay (Smallpox bay, poor thing). It’s a short, but beautiful walk. A perfect little piece of calm after watching Orca.

As I wandered back to camp, I was pondering the benefits of hot cocoa versus tea versus decaf. I put the kettle on and reached for and didn’t find my mug.

I did a quick search of Brave Horatio’s galley, the picnic table, and the camp. No mug.

It slowly dawned on me that I’d brought my coffee to the beach to launch the wine guys on their adventure. I couldn’t remember having it when I returned. Oh no!

I slowly walked to the meadow and down to the tiny beach. This morning the rock on the beach was high and dry. Now it was surrounded by water to at least knee-depth. The tiny beach was super tiny, just a little crescent of dry. No mug in sight.

I walked back up to the meadow and around to approach the tiny beach from the rock side. I could just see the silver glint of my mug nestled under the water among bladder wrack. Sadly it was maybe waist deep and a couple yards offshore. Luckily, it looked to be constrained by a little curve of rock.

Back at camp I shared the sad plight of my coffee mug with Bill. He asked if I thought I could get it with a stick. Nope.

A few minutes later Bill got that look on his face–the one that means he’s thinking strategically. He started taking down a tarp pole.

Bill doesn’t talk while he’s thinking. He often doesn’t talk when he’s putting his plans into action. You have to ask.

He was thinking of sacrificing a roasting fork–to make a hook to gaff tape to the end of a loooooong tarp pole–to use as a coffee mug fishing pole. I suggested using one of our many tent pegs. Some have nice size hooks.

I convinced Bill to construct the super long pole after we reached the fishing point. I didn’t want to do the walk of shame past our camp and meadow neighbors. Conspicuous weirdos off to fish for a mug.

Bill’s boots are higher than mine and he’s got way better hand-eye coordination. He carefully stepped into the bladder wrack and extended the tarp pole hook (about 10 foot of it). A few seconds later my mug was safely home!

Shopping San Juan

It’s still mid-Covid and also, we’re camping, so we didn’t explore many stores in Friday Harbor. The bookstore was pretty fantastic, the co-op too. I, however, was on a search for honey. Wherever I go, I look for local honey. I love the variety of flavors from different locales. Honesty stands are also one of the joys of my life (people TRUST me…there’s hope for the world). I also enjoy talking with and buying from farmers.

We pulled into Amaro Farms in search of honey and stayed to talk to xxxx about Flat Hat Distillery and Amaro’s Valais sheep. The restored barn that Flat Hat shares with the farm store is so gorgeous. They didn’t have honey, but we left with some tea and a small flock of stuffed lambs for our grandniblings.

Fine dining Brave Horatio style

San Juan Island Food Coop provided us with 5 Bs bakery cinnamon rolls for tomorrow’s breakfast, a frozen chicken pot pie for tomorrow’s dinner, and a Brown Bear Bakery gluten free boule for tonight’s for crab feast.

We found the best seafood market down on the Friday Harbor docks. It welcomed us in with bright painted fish and flowers and friendly staff.

When deciding on whole crab or crab meat, remember only about a quarter of the weight of a whole crab is meat. Multiply the cost of whole crab by four–and think about what you will do with the aromatic remains at your campsite. We popped for pre-picked crab–quite a lot of it.

It was raining when we got back, but it finally eased off then stopped. While we were waiting out the rain we got new neighbors, a Sprinter van decked out for camping and shared by a bunch of friends from Santa Cruz.

The weather finally cooperated and we heated our bread and a little pot of butter over the campfire. We had a beautiful dinner with Michael and Jan last week that included a bottle of Michael’s viognier (very nice!). Michael gifted me with a bottle of his Roussanne for this trip and I was excited to try it. Roussanne is not a wine I’m familiar with. It was soft and lovely and perfect for the evening. Thanks Michael!

We sat by the fire in our camp rockers dipping crab meat in the pot of warm butter. Warm butter dipped crab alternated with warm bread and sips of nice `wine is an amazing way to end an evening!

Salted Honey Caramels Instead of Cake

We woke up to a bit of rain and decided to leave the batwing battened down and head into town for breakfast. That’s one of the joys of camping at this county park, Friday Harbor is just 20 minutes away.

The Rocky Bay Cafe on Spring Street proved to be a great choice. Everyone was masked and respectful. The staff were cheerful and engaging. They were looking forward to a cafe staff trip to Las Vegas the next day. Kind of cool!

I had eggs benedict over hash browns (I almost always have eggs benedict if it’s an option) and Bill had eggs, bacon, and toast. The food was good and the coffee hot and frequently refilled. We sat at a window seat and watched the soft rain. Warm and comfortable.

The rain dropped to a mist and we headed to the farmers’ market. We picked up a really nice map outside Coldwell banker on our way.

What a great market! Vegetables, meat, foraged food, bakery items, artisans, and live music. San Juan Island Sea Salt, Cady Davis Creations, San Juan Silk (Mary Sly), and Inspired Earth Tea got our custom, but we loved it all.

Cady Davis Creation Bill bought me for my birthday. Cady found the beach glass on Brown Island, just across from Friday Harbor.

Westside Preserve

After spending some time in town, we headed back to the west side of the island. We walked around the Westside Preserve and parked at Limekiln Point State Park.

Limekiln Point and Deadman Bay

Of course we looked for whales, but we looked while we walked the third-mile trail to Deadman Bay. It’s a nice trail right along the headland. Deadman Bay is beautiful–a sheltered sunny spot on this unexpectedly fine fall day. (some of our camping neighbors let us know that they had big hiking plans, but took a three-hour nap on the beach here instead.)

We walked back from Deadman Bay and continued on past the lighthouse. All the while keeping our eyes out for whale.

We didn’t spot whale, but our camp neighbors saw a pod heading north just off the county park. (We had great camp neighbors, including a UW professor who studies raptors in the Amazon and teaches classes about crows–Hi Ursula! Hi Todd!)

English camp

After lunching on toasted ham and cheese sandwiches back at Brave Horatio, we headed to the north end of the island and English Camp. Totally different situation from American Camp. This end of the island is low and forested. English Camp is on the beach meadow of Garrison Bay and the adjoining uplands. Garrison bay has only a narrow opening connecting it to the rest of the Salish Sea. From Haro Straight you take Mosquito Pass and the small opening into Horseshoe Bay, turning before Bell Point into Garrison Bay.

It’s a pretty idyllic place, beautiful and bountiful.

The emphasis on disputes between colonizers and the ever larger houses on the island remind me that I am on the traditional lands and waters of the Coast Salish people, including Lummi, Saanich, Samish, Semiahmoo, Songhee, Sooke, and Swinomish. These nations, current and historic, care for and harvest this land. I honor their inherent, aboriginal and treaty rights passed down through generations.

Roche Harbor

I guess Sarah and I used a bit more propane than I thought on our Ozette Lake adventure. Our chubby little tank ran out at lunch. We had several smaller bottles, but decided to see if we could fill chubby back up. We took a detour to Roche Harbor.

I love the road to Roche Harbor. I love the airstrip where planes share space with geese. I love the sculpture garden. I do not love Roche Harbor. It’s a bit too twee, a bit too privileged, a bit too buttoned up. As an antidote, it also has some nifty history and art.

We poked into the Company Store and they explained how to get our propane fill (meet guy by the old generator plant and pay down at the fuel dock). Don’t plan to buy hardware here–they have lots of wine though.

Evening at the park

San Juan County Park is a beautiful place to camp. Site 10 is just off the high meadow. There is a tiny beach just below us accessed by a path just around the corner. On the other side of the meadow is a trail out to the point of the larger, but still small, bay. Beautiful.

The weather moved between mist and clear so we started a campfire. We’d picked up some drier wood at a stand outside the park so tonight’s fire was easier to start and didn’t need attention every few minutes. We opened some wine enjoyed the flames while we waited for coals.

We grilled our dinner of steak and asparagus over beautiful coals. A couple of asparagus spears leapt into the fire, but we had lots, so no worries. We ate in the dark warmed by the fire. In lieu of a birthday cake, we enjoyed San Juan Island Se Salt honey caramels purchased at the Farmers Market this morning.

Beautiful day! Beautiful evening!

Mid-October Island Idyll

Olympia to San Juan Island

We planned on a Friday–Tuesday long weekend, but the federal case Bill testified for last month ended in a hung jury so he needed to testify at the new trial. Not much we could do about the court schedule, so we’ll head back on Monday. I’ll miss our extra day on the island, but having a whole day to unpack, do laundry, and dry out the batwing will be nice.

We got up at 3am in order to get kayaks on Freya, do some final food packing, and make our 9:30 ferry reservation.

There was a surprising amount of traffic, but it mostly moved right along. We got to Anacortes in time to board the 8:30 boat. Nice!

Freya starting her swim to Friday Harbor

Such an empty ferry

I’ve never been on a less crowded ferry. Tomorrow the ferry system is going to remove some boats because of lack of riders (and maybe labor shortages). We were between a dump truck bringing gravel to the island and a state patrol car. Most of the other lanes were empty.

I love ferries!

One interesting thing about Covid is walking around on the car deck while the ferry is underway. They usually discourage this—it’s a little Covid perk. I like the interesting new perspective on the water and islands.

We drove through Friday Harbor in a gray drizzle—not cold, just gray.

San Juan is one of the larger of the San Juan Islands, but it’s not very big. There are lots of routes that get you to the County Park. We arrived via Beaverton Valley, West Valley, and Mitchell Roads.

Preparing for a gale

We camped at this park in August a couple years ago and enjoyed great weather and an even better Maya’s Legacy whale watch excursion. The weather forecast for this trip was quite different. We were expecting rain every day and gale-force winds starting at about 5:30 this first evening and lasting for 24 hours.

We spend some time deploying the purple batwing to accommodate our evening cooking and figuring out how to batten it down for the night.

Friday Harbor

Then we left for a lunch of shepherd’s pie in Friday Harbor. It was reasonable, but not great. We poked around Friday Harbor for a bit. Wandering the docks and buying Christmas gifts as the excellent Griffin Bay Bookstore.

Cask & Schooner in Friday Harbor

Our last trip to San Juan County Campground was a hurried weekend centered around a marvelous whale watch excursion with Maya’s Legacy. (They’re great! If you can afford it, take one of their tours. The boats are perfect and the people knowledgeable and friendly.)

Maya’s Legacy at the dock in Friday Harbor

On this trip we planned to explore the island more.

Off on a ramble

We drove to American Camp on the South end of the island. The exposed headland prairie was beautiful and standing on the redoubt echoes with shadows of indigenous people gathering camas and the early American soldiers who pushed them out.

I spotted a fox and we watched it for awhile as searched for dinner on a grassy hill. Gorgeous. San Juan Island foxes are all Vulpus vulpus (red fox) though they come in many colors).

San Juan Island red fox come in all colors

We drove back to camp via False Bay and stops at several viewpoints. This island is full of beautiful spaces.

So many birds

A kingfisher was perched on a twig on the beach near the park store. Great blue herons were on the hunt, and a red tail hung pretty close to our camp site. As we were starting our campfire, we heard an almighty racket and followed it to the meadow overlooking Haro Straight. A large group of seagulls, loons, and grebes were feasting on something right below our feet. We never spotted it as it was wedged into a rock crevice, but we could smell it. We sat on the bank and watched them enjoy themselves. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many loons in one place. There must have been a couple dozen of them.

So many boats

San Juan County Park is on Haro Straight, a busy shipping channel. The hour and a half long ferry ride also winds among boat traffic. There were plenty of opportunities for Bill take pictures. Here are some of my favorites.

Island evening

The gale hadn’t yet materialized, but we expected it at any minute. We changed our dinner plan from campfire grilled steak to warmed up white beans. In the end the gale held off long enough for us to warm the beans over our campfire.

There were difficulties with both beans and fire. The beans were still frozen and, since I froze them in a jar with a smallish top, they were pretty hard to transfer to the dutch oven. The firewood was a bit wet, it took considerable kindling and acting as human bellows to get and keep it going. We persevered and prevailed with both. Eating piping hot beans with warm French bread next to a cheerful campfire was worth the effort.

The wind picked up as we washed dishes and brushed our teeth. We lowered the batwing, tied it taut and retreated into Brave Horatio.

Parking with the big boys

We squashed this trip in between Pinniped gigs and work commitments. It was great, but too, too short. Monday morning we opted to skip breakfast in camp. We made coffee, packed, and hooked up for a driving tour of the island on our way back to the ferry. Sipping coffee and munching energy bars.

I enjoyed the farmland at the center of the island and the surprising number of lakes. Didn’t find a honey stand though. So sad.

We putzed around a cooking store and a gift shop while Brave Horatio waited patiently in line for the boat.

Lulubelle, Brave Horatio, and a much bigger mate.

We found a bakery/restaurant near the ferry dock that almost made this Celiac weep. I can’t eat wheat, but I do love the aromas.

The Cheesecake Cafe and Bakery has baked goods I’d pay just to smell, some yummy gluten-free treats, and my custom next time I’m on island. (Their breakfast menu looked good, but we were full of energy bars.)

We enjoyed their gluten free cheesecake later in the day.

The ride back to Anacortes was gorgeous. Sunny and warm. We didn’t see much wildlife, but Mt. Baker really popped.

Mt. Baker from the ferry

Back in Anacortes we found Dad’s Diner, a fun lunch spot with friendly staff and great food. And bonus, very knowledgeable about the needs of celiac dining!

South we went on I-5, eating cheesecake, talking about the people we’d met and the things we’d seen, writing postcards to niblings, and discussing future plans. We’ll definitely watch whales with Maya’s Legacy again and use San Juan County Park as our base.

It was a two-pod day

We were scheduled to leave at 11, so had time for a leisurely walk with our coffee cups to the bluff and little beach. Such a quiet peaceful moment.

As we started cooking breakfast, the campground woke up. It was Sunday so most folks were packing to leave. By the time we did dishes and gathered our binocs, camera, and layers, the campground was nearly empty.

Maya’s called asking if we could leave from Snug Harbor rather than Friday Harbor. This was perfect for us. A better chance of seeing whales and a a shorter drive from camp.

Snug Harbor is seriously cute! It’s now on my list of Thanksgiving possibles.

We warmed up in the coffee shop, bought a skirt from the gift shop, and chatted about the different accommodation layouts, before heading uphill to meet Maya’s staff at the picnic table flying the (slightly tattered) whale windsock.

Our boat, crew, and group

Our group of nine included three women who bonded during college and met up periodically, and two other couples. I loved hearing the college friends banter.

There were three staff on the boat (Jeff, Sara, and Alissa) and all were really friendly and knowledgeable. Sara, one of the two captains, is our daughter’s friend, so it was especially nice to spend some time with her.

Sara has followed the Orca population for years and is adept at identifying individuals. She also has an amazing knowledge of their family trees. Her photographs are outstanding.

Sara has Patreon account and Facebook page. Both so worth visiting!

Looking back at our wake

Bill and I like to be outside on boats and these offered both comfy inside seats and ready access to the outside at both bow and stern. Also, the inside windows flipped up and totally out of the way, which was great.

Spieden Island

The mouflon sheep and fallow and sika deer and were all active on Spieden Island. We got nice close views of these imported species.

Fallow buck

I especially liked the line of mouflon edging down the steep bank to get at the salt on the rocks.

There were also seal, otter, eagles and a smallish blue heron surfing on a pile of kelp.

Pod 1: the T35s

Orca are the largest member of the dolphin family. Look at them and it’s obvious. Such cute rounded heads. I was surprised by how small they look in the wild. I’d only ever seen them in captivity and was captivated by their command of their world.

We were looking for a big male when we spotted the T35s. They were travelling south partway up the west side of Galliano Island. We watched them cover quite a distance. They seemed to be following the male we never saw out into the Strait of Georgia. Other boats let us know that there was a “white wall” out there. We didn’t venture out.

Pod 2: the T37s

A radio call from the whale watch network alerted Jeff to a new pod of whales and we headed north (off the map near the end of this post).

We spotted other tours (including the Vancouver to Seattle ferry, Prince of Whales) before we saw the second pod. I was impressed with how carefully all the tour boats respected the distance limits and the whales’ line of travel. They kept a close eye on private boats making sure that those boats were aware of whales in the vicinity. Everyone was respectful.

These whales, the T37s weren’t in a hurry to get anywhere. We watched them hunt seals, including a lot of vertical tail wiggling. They spyhopped and cuddled. I didn’t realize that water beings without arms could hug and snuggle. They can and they did for 15 or 20 minutes, sliding over and under each other in a marvelous cuddle ballet.

The T37s were at the north end of Salt Spring Island. We could clearly see Crofton. After a good long visit with the T37s, Sara headed our boat home through the Sansum Narrows–beautiful.

About “our” whales

Both pods are transient Biggs Orca. They are doing much better than the Salish Sea residents. The Biggs Orca hunt sea mammals and live in small matriarchal pods (3-8). There about 400 of them off the Pacific Northwest coast and their population is growing. They don’t interbreed with our salmon-eating residents. The residents travel in much larger pods (20-30+) and there are far fewer of them (73, I think). These pods are also matriarchal. Residents have lost several calves and some adults in the last few years and their numbers are declining.

Sara kept track of our whales using a dry-erase marker on the head-door map. Our route went off the map up the east side of Salt Spring Island and back down the west side between Salt Spring and Vancouver Island .

Back at the dock we debriefed our trip with an excited little girl. She’d gone out with Maya’s Legacy the day before and saw both Orca and Humpback. I enjoyed her energetic excitement and her victorious grin as she realized she’d seen more whale species than we had.

We finished this excellent day with dinner and the most fantastic sunset. Love this campground.

Brave Horatio’s first ferry ride!

Sarah and Erik gave us a gift certificate for whale watching–not last Christmas, but the one before. I was in school, we wanted to upgrade to an all day adventure, and I consistently forget to check my email. So almost two years went by and we opted for the more easily scheduled half- day trip.

We were excited to get it all figured out.

Maya’s Legacy is on San Juan Island. They leave from either Friday Harbor or Snug Harbor, depending on the tour,  the weather,  and the whales.

The people at Maya’s were wonderful. First they scheduled a second trip for the Sunday we wanted. Then they quickly called back letting us know they could make it into an all day trip. Perfect!

We started planning.

Bill scheduled our ferry and I reserved our campsite.

Bill had a Pinniped show at the Olympia Farmer’s Market on Friday, so we left earlyish on Saturday, lattes in hand.

I continue to be pleased with our habit of getting Brave Horatio ready for the next trip each time we return. I also like my decision to designate some clothes as teardrop clothes and keep them ready to go in my little cabinet. This time I swapped out some shorts and swapped in more tights and some rain gear. Quick and easy.

Bill continues to pack his side for each trip. Works for him.

Coffee and Anacortes exploration

Traffic was light and we got to Anacortes with time to spare. We’d never looked around before so we got another coffee and cruised.

Nothing like Penguin Coffee on your way to watch whales!

We found a Farmer’s Market and a parking spot by city hall. There are full body portraits of past mayors on the wall by the sidewalk. I’ve never seen that before. A little history right in your face. Kind of neat.

Note the portraits of Anacortes Mayors painted on the building wall. Maybe that’s a judge above the entryway?

We walked through the market. I recommend it if you’re up that way. Looked like lots of good prepared food, veg, cider and art.

Bill spotted a boat. It was a BIG boat and pretty well hidden behind a building. Of course he knew it. (Bill is really interested in boats, particularly work boats). The WT Preston is a steam powered paddle-wheel snagboat. She pulled snags and other debris from the Puget Sound (Olympia to Blaine) from 1929-1981. She’s enjoying a land based retirement as part of the Anacortes Maritime Heritage Center.

We spent an enjoyable few minutes in this small-but-nice museum and I left with a new book–Bijaboji is Betty Lowman Carey’s account of her solo trip from Anacortes to Ketchican rowing her dugout canoe. Betty was 22 when she made this trip in 1937. Perfect for this trip.

On the ferry

Brave Horatio on his first ferry ride. Windy, windy, windy…but once on island, the weather turned kind.

Spot 10 is one of the few at San Juan County Park that is not strictly tent only. It turned out to be a beautiful spot, to one side of the big meadow that overlooks the water. There’s a path from the meadow to a sweet little beach. (The larger, but still small kayak-launch cove is down the hill and around the corner. It’s a small park.)

I found out later that my niece and grand-niblings camp here every August with a couple other families. They love this park and I understand why.

The only new gear we had were a couple collapsible canvas buckets we thought might make nice reusable trash and recycle bins and help reduce our reliance on plastic.

San Juan Island has so much art!

On the way to San Juan Park we passed by Kevin Roth’s sculptures. These little houses made from cement mixers are too marvelous. I wanted to be six again and move in.

Kevin Roth Sculptures
Fine art in a cement mixer turned goldfish house!

San Juan Sculpture Garden

We drove to Roche Harbor and walked around the San Juan Sculpture garden. Another wonderful surprise on this beautiful island. The sculptures ranged from joyous to whimsical to contemplatively beautiful. Slowly spinning the five prayer wheels after adding our hopes to each brought us to a peaceful meditative frame of mind. Perfect for this short vacation.

Our home for the next few days