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Winter Wildlife on San Juan Island

February 10, 2017

Winter is the “quiet season” on San Juan Island, but quiet doesn’t necessarily mean boring, especially when wildlife is involved!

Two swans in waterAt Lakedale, we herald the end of fall and the start of winter when we hear the first loud honks (think a big brass horn) of the Trumpeter Swans. These majestic birds migrate from Alaska to Washington every year and spend the months of November through March as our guests. Fortunately, they find their own food and we don’t have to change their sheets.

They are North America’s largest bird and also one of its most rare, according to the Trumpeter Swan Society, which works to save them from extinction. Like other birds, they mate for life and will often live 20-30 years in the wild, returning with their extended families to the same winter nesting wetland with their cygnets. The swans spend most of their time on Dream Lake, socializing, eating and basking in the rays of the winter sun.

Orca leaping out of waterThe magnificent orca whales that many of our guests come to the islands to experience are called the “Southern Residents” and typically don’t return to the islands until spring, but whales still abound in winter. “Transient” pods can be seen year round and are distinguished by the fact that their diet consists of marine mammals, compared to the fish-based diet of the resident J, K, and L pods. At times, humpback whales, minkes and even gray whales can be spotted in the Salish Sea that surrounds San Juan Island. Check out the Whale Museum in Friday Harbor for more whale info! http://whalemuseum.org/

Eagle sitting on an evergreen treeWhile some bald eagles migrate south for the winter, San Juan Island has 89 nesting pairs, more than any other county in the state. And Washington has more bald eagles than any state other than Alaska. From October through mid-July the resident eagles live on the island, and leave only when their young are old enough to fly to salmon spawning rivers. Eagles also mate for life and mature at five or six years old, when the iconic brilliant white feathers appear as crowns atop their heads.

Although these are some of our more renowned winter residents, the San Juan Island is host to hundreds of bird species, black-tailed deer, red fox, wild turkeys and an abundant sea life population including stellar sea lions and harlequin ducks. Bring your camera this winter and prepared to be amazed! (Thanks https://www.sanjuansafaris.com/ and John Miller for some of the great photos!)Fox standing on grassSeal on a rock