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Friday, August 10, 2012

Seeking Alcids in Puget Sound. August 2012.

48 hours in the Seattle area in search of alcids [auks, murres, puffins, and guillemots].

Summer is the time to go for viewing alcids in breeding plumage. Target species were pigeon guillemot and tufted puffin. Both are striking birds The plan was simple -- pray for good weather and bird hotspots in the Puget Sound area -- on Whidbey Island and off Protection Island.

First stop was Whidbey Island. While a bonanza of pigeon guillemots was expected based on the excellent cues provided by Whidbey Audubon:
What was somewhat unexpected was a magnificent rhinoceros auklet:

This auk was seen feeding right in the ferry area, unperturbed by the commotion. The highlights were dominated, naturally, by the guillemots -- noisy, active and surprisingly colorful in jet black plumage with flashes of red.
The all black plumage is a real struggle for the camera -- I tried generous amounts of negative comp, anywhere from -0.3 [too little] to -1.3 [too much] but many images still required post processing correction. The eye-ring seen in the above picture is most prominent when seen from a frontal position. For example, seen from the side, the eye ring is less noticeable:

In terms of sheer visual imagery, it is always a delight to highlight the gape of the mouth:

The early morning sun made exposure more of a challenge. Arriving at dusk the same day, while presenting less of a challenge in terms of getting the blacks right, also somewhat dulled the reds:

Pigeon guillemots are highly gregarious, strong vocalizers, excellent hunters of fish and powerful flyers. They can be seen flying into and out of their burrows at Penn Cove and also at the Port Townsend ferry terminal area where these photographs were taken.

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