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. Their 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.