Reports from the Field

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

 

Low tides, whales, sunshine. Summer in the San Juan Islands!

We've been exceptionally busy over the last month (hence the lack of reports being posted). The weather has been exceptionally nice this year and folks are coming from near and far to enjoy some time kayaking in the San Juan Islands.

This last weekend we experienced the lowest tides of the summer, as well as being able to see the "super moon" that caused them.  During low tides an amazing variety of interesting creatures are exposed for us to see. The intertidal zone has been described as a miniature Serengeti, filled with grazers, stalking predators, and scavengers. Of course, things move at a slower pace here. One of the fastest moving predators, the sunflower sea star, sprints along at a blistering 3ft/minute as it attacks a peacefully grazing urchin, while Alabaster nudibranchs feast on bryozoan colonies nearby.

One of the most interesting finds came on Saturday's kayak tour when AKT guide Greg Anderson spotted a Golf Ball crab (Rhinolithodes wosnessenskii) hiding under a piece of kelp. We've never seen one of these interesting animals before!

Thanks Greg for these great photos!





Orca whales have also been part of our kayaking scene these last few weeks. Our multi-day trips have have multiple encounters, and we've seen J-pod, K-pod, and L-pod swimming by Burrows Island on different occasions. Just yesterday we had an astounding encounter with a super pod while drifting through the fog. One of our whale-watching friends from Canada sent me this great photo of one memorable moment. Thanks Mallard!

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Saturday, May 31, 2014

 

Kayaking with Transient Orca Whales, Burrows Island!

Our afternoon Half Day kayaking trip, being led by AKT guide Matt Wyatt, had an unexpected surprise yesterday. An encounter with a family of mammal-eating killer whales! This group of five Orca whales, known as the "T-65's" has been moving around the San Juan Islands for several weeks now. It is composed of a mother (T-65) and her four kids, including a new calf which was born on March 22nd of this year.

Here is a (very) short video clip that AKT guide Greg Anderson managed to take last summer when we ran into Transients during a guide training day. On that encounter we witnessed this group of whales killing seals. There was quite a bit of blood in the water, as well as chunks of blubber floating around our kayaks. It was a bit gruesome, but part of the natural cycle of life. Please forgive the brevity of the clip, but you can imagine that we were all pretty excited...and a bit freaked out!


video

Mammal eating killer whales are known as Transients and differ from the"Resident" Orca whales that have supported a robust whale-watching industry here in the San Juan Islands. The most obvious difference between the two is that the Transients feed on mammals such as seals, sea lions, and porpoise, as well as larger baleen whales. The Residents are piscivorous, or fish eating, killer whales that mainly target Chinook salmon.

NEWSFLASH!  As I am writing this report I just got word that J-Pod, one of our Resident families, is moving north up the shores of San Juan Island!! Matt Smith is coming back in from leading his 3-Day trip up to Stuart Island, it will be fun to hear if he encounters them. J-Pod has not been seen in the San Juan Islands for quite a while, so this is really big news for us! Hopefully they will move on their regular route which might bring them back here to Anacortes on the morning tides tomorrow.
We will keep you posted!



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Sunday, May 25, 2014

 

Humpback Whale in Rosario Strait! Memorial Day Weekend Fun.

So as this report is written we are watching a Humpback whale swimming past Burrows Pass towards the Burrows Island Lighthouse.  Yep, we can sometimes watch whales right from our office window!

Matt Wyatt is out on a Full Day trip and could be in a prime position for a fantastic encounter and we can't wait to hear what happens.  We have tried calling Matt Smith, and Will Baker who are both up with guests on a 3-Day trip to Cypress Island, but so far have not heard whether they made contact. Apparently the whale was in Bellingham Channel prior to traveling past Anacortes....and those guys are camping right in the best place to see that kind of action.

We had reports of Transient Orca whales up near Sucia Island over this past week. AKT guide Megan McCarthy is up there with her guests and is keeping her eyes peeled. So far she hasn't seen them, but those whales usually turn up without any notice so we are keeping out fingers crossed.

So far we have enjoyed a very nice holiday weekend, the weather has been fantastic, despite the less than ideal forecast. It's just another reminder of how nice the climate is here in the San Juan Islands, especially during this time of the year. The guides have been reporting some fun porpoise encounters, loads of seals, and the Peregrine falcons are about to fledge from their nest on Burrows Island. Yesterday long-time AKT guide Mike Olson reported seeing a seal pup hauled out on the rocks, so it looks like pupping season has begun!

It's a great time to enjoy kayaking in the San Juan Islands, join us!

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Friday, February 21, 2014

 

Mid-Winter Kayaking Fun

So we are now officially two-thirds of the way through our Pacific Northwest winter. Although each day has been getting slightly longer since winter solstice, most of us are getting a bit of cabin-fever and we begin to pine for green foliage and bird song. As any native to Washington knows, the only antidote to the winter blues is to get outside and do something!

Last week that is exactly what we managed to do.

Every year, at about this time, a group of friends take a week off from the daily grind and head out to the west coast of Vancouver Island, to the little town of Tofino. We rent the same big house on the beach, complete with a hot tub (of course!) and plenty of space for everybody to stay. This is one of the highlights of our winter, our annual surf-kayak safari.

As it turned out, the weather cooperated wonderfully for all but the last day that we were there. The surf was nice, and the warmer temperatures meant that our boys were not afraid to spend a lot of time in the water. You know that you are raising a true Northwestern child when you see them splashing about in the ocean in the middle of winter!

As always, the best part about the trip (besides the kayaking) was being able to hang around with old friends, and meet some new friends. This year the "newbie" was Sarah Outen. If you have not heard of Sarah yet then I would highly recommend that you check out her story. She is halfway finished with a human-powered trek around the world! She started by kayaking from London to France, then bicycled across Russia, then kayaked to Japan, then rowed (solo) across the Pacific Ocean to Alaska. Yes, solo rowed across the Pacific Ocean. Holy Cow!! In April she will paddle through the Aleutian Islands to Homer Alaska, then bicycle across Canada, then row (solo) across the Atlantic Ocean and back to London.
Oh yeah, I should also mention that she has already rowed (yes, solo) across the Indian Ocean, and wrote a book about it. She's 28 years old.
Boy do I feel like an under motivated individual!

If a measure of success is the quality of people that you can call friends, then we feel like the most successful people around. Our circle of friends keeps growing and all of them are exceptional people in their own ways!

Since pictures often tell a story better than words I have posted a few images below. You can also view them on our Facebook page, look for the Tofino 2014 album.


Me and my new surf boat.
I'm ready to go after getting some coaching from Tashi. 

Taiga and Tashi playing in the surf.

Leon Somme, Body Boat Blade International.

Barry Shaw tears it up in his sea kayak.

Leon likes to paddle until he drops....literally!

Taiga gets some great coaching from Barry!

Sunset, Tofino, with Megan and the boys.

Justine Curgenven, smiling as always!

Sarah Outen practicing her surf landings.


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Monday, October 14, 2013

 

Autumn Kayaking, and Canoeing!

The fast-paced days of the summer season are behind us now, but the weather has been pretty good over the last few weeks and so we are still managing to accommodate the hardy folks who want to get out on the water when the Sun is shining. Although the air temperature can be a little bit cooler, the reward comes in the form of being the only ones out on the water and enjoying an enhanced sense of "wildness" that can only be experienced during the shoulder-seasons here in the the San Juan Islands.

Being part of the Pacific Coast Flyway, the birders who live in our area love this time of the year as we get to see a wide variety of migratory birds. Right now we are already seeing a number of Snow geese moving into the Skagit and Samish river valleys. Just last week a Parasitic Jaeger was sighted down off of Deception Pass State Park. If you haven't seen these acrobatic fliers in action then you are really missing out! They specialize in harassing other gulls and terns until the unlucky victim disgorges their catch (which the jaeger will usually catch in mid-air). Jaegers are part of the Skua family, whose larger members are often seen patrolling the southern ocean surrounding Antarctica.

In other news, last week I joined former AKT guide Corey McCartney, and current AKT guide Leslie Mix on a fun canoeing trip down the lower Sauk River. The Pink salmon were thick as thieves and large groups would surge under our boats as we glided downstream. There is something incredibly powerful about seeing this final stage in the great saga that is a salmon's life. After spending years at sea, traveling thousands of miles, and avoiding countless threats to their lives, the luckiest and strongest fish make one final herculean effort and swim miles away from salt water, up hill, over obstacles, avoiding even more threats, in order to finally lay their eggs and then die. It seems like an unlikely way for a species to survive, but it works! It's been happening here in Washington State since the last Ice Age retreated, and it's been happening for millions of years before that. Exactly how they do it is still somewhat of a mystery, and in my view that's part of what makes it so profound to witness firsthand from the unique perspective of a canoe.
Anacortes Kayak Tours guides on the Sauk River

One reason for this trip was for Leslie and I to shake off the canoeing cobwebs, after a summer of sea kayaking, and get prepared for a class that we both enrolled in down in Oregon. Being actively involved in the British Canoe Union style of learning and coaching we both signed up to participate in the 4-Star Canoe Leadership training course, and for three days we we going to be immersed in learning how to better manage leading groups down rivers in traditional canoes. As it turned out the class was one of the best paddlesport classes that I have ever participated in. Our instructor, Rob Yates, was incredible in his way of giving us just the right amount of information, at just the right time, in order to maximize our learning. I was able to sort out some huge obstacles to my own personal canoeing skills, as well as being able to more effectively manage groups on the water. Even though I've been in this industry for a long time, I feel that there is always so much more to learn. How lucky am I?!! I love my job! 
Thanks Rob for coming all the way from South Africa to share your knowledge. and a HUGE thanks to Paul Kuthe of Alder Creek Canoe and Kayak for the great accommodations!

Paul Kuthe, making it look easy in Bob's Hole rapid!

Lunch break on the Clackamas River.

Rob Yates (white helmet) giving instructions to the group.

Professional development for Anacortes Kayak Tours guides.
Rob watching as Leon Somme navigates a small rapid.





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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

 

September Kayaking; Beautiful Weather, and Whales!

For those of you who are fortunate enough to live here in western Washington State, you already know that we've been enjoying some beautiful weather this month. Sure, there has been some rain, but the warm temperatures, and calm winds have made for some truly amazing days. This is the time of the year when the San Juan Islands are quiet and peaceful. Gone are the summer yachts and hordes of travelers, and the islands feel like a very different place than they did just a few weeks ago. For most of our kayak guides this is their favorite time of the season as the frenetic pace of work slows down a bit and allows them time to wind down and enjoy a little more free time.

We've still been running tours every day however, and the last few days have been incredible. Long-time AKT guide Mira Lutz was leading a trip on Sunday that unexpectedly came upon a pod of Transient Orca whales. The fact that they were kayaking through a light fog bank made the encounter even more surreal as the animals literally appeared out of nowhere, swam around them for a moment, and then disappeared back into the mist. I can't imagine a more perfect way to experience these iconic creatures. Even Mira, with countless kayak tours under her belt, remarked that this was the "coolest trip she has ever led". That's saying a lot!
I posted the only picture that turned out of the whale encounter, it's a bit grainy but still pretty cool (sort of like the old Loch Ness monster images)!

We will be running our kayak trips for a couple of more weeks before we shut down for the winter months, give us a call!

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Tuesday, September 03, 2013

 

Labor Day Weekend, (the beginning of the end of the kayaking season in the San Juan Islands.)

We enjoyed nice sea kayaking weather over the holiday weekend here in the San Juan Islands. Lots of fun wildlife encounters have been happening as well. The seals right inside the marina have been extremely friendly lately too. The fisherman coming in from their charters toss the filleted remnants of the catch into the water and these clever buggers have learned to follow them in to get an easy meal. Consequently, we have also had some extremely close encounters form our kayaks.

Although today is a bit drizzly, this summer seems to have been filled with sunny and warm days. We've made the most of it too, and have launched trips to more of the San Juans than ever before. We were very happy with the way our San Juan Island program worked out this year, although the Orca whales were not very cooperative, our guests seemed to enjoy their time on the water. Our last multi-day tours to Cypress Island went out on Saturday, the camp areas close down after Labor Day and won't re-open until next May.

Here's a fun picture of our guide Alex leading a tour at Burrows Island. Note the seals in the foreground. Thanks Steve for coming out with us!

Here's the view this morning from our Anacortes office window, looking back toward Mt. Erie. It was a spectacularly beautiful morning with a little warm rain and gorgeous cloud formations. The folks departing on the 5-Day kayaking adventure into the San Juan Islands were in for a real visual treat as they headed out across Rosario Strait. I love this time of the year!




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