Part 1 of this two-part series included gulls, crows, a merganser, a tern, an auklet, and a guillemot with their fish. Now we’ll take a look at fish caught by more of our expert local pescatarian, or fish-eating, feathered friends. We begin with the Great Blue Heron, who needs a few photos.
1. Lobefin Snailfish
Great Blue Herons are very successful pescatarians, though they also consume gophers, frogs, and many other animals. They spend a lot of their time hunting, often standing very still in shallow water. Their specially shaped neck vertebrae allow them to quickly strike and grab an unsuspecting fish. One day at Pt. Hudson, I was astonished to see this heron catch a huge fish, then swallow it whole, and immediately resume hunting for more fish! Thanks to a fish expert on iNaturalist, I learned this was a Lobefin Snailfish (Polypera greeni). I’ve found many bright yellow and pink two-inch snailfish in local tide pools, but this was the first time I’ve ever seen this much larger, rare species.
2. Great Blue Heron with Shiner Perch
A favorite fishing technique for our local Great Blue Herons is to stand on floating kelp. One morning when I was walking along Water Street in downtown Port Townsend, I noticed a heron staring intently at the water while perched on a tangle of bull kelp. I walked down to a dock to watch. Suddenly, it splashed its head into the water, and came up with a fish.
3. Shiner Perch
I focused in with my zoom lens, and saw the fish had yellow stripes. Looking into the water around the dock, I saw more of the same fish swimming in a school— Shiner Perch (Cymatogaster aggregata), a fish I recognized from volunteering at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center. Currently one of their tanks features something new, juvenile Shiner Perch bred captive right there. PTMSC reports, “Captive breeding is an important part of sustainability in public aquariums. These juveniles represent a big step forward in PTMSC aquarium operations!”
4. Great Blue Heron with Threespine Stickleback
You can almost always find Great Blue Herons doing some serious fishing at Kah Tai Lagoon and Chinese Gardens Lagoon. Thanks to the fish experts on iNaturalist, I learned that this heron caught a Threespine Stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus). The next photo shows some of the spines that give this fish its name.
5. Threespine Stickleback
I’ve been fascinated by Threespine Sticklebacks since reading a chapter in Seattle author Kelly Brenner’s Nature Obscura, where she explains why this fish is of interest to evolutionary biologists. As the ice retreated from the Salish Sea 14,000 years ago, armored (or plated) Threespine Sticklebacks living in the ocean moved into the Salish Sea, and then into freshwater lakes, where they evolved to become armorless.
6. Greater Yellowlegs with Threespine Stickleback
The Greater Yellowlegs, an elegant shorebird with bright yellow legs and a very long bill, also likes to catch Threespine Stickleback at Kah Tai Lagoon. The lagoon is a tidally flushed estuary of brackish water, and the lagoon and surrounding park attract over 150 bird species.
7. Common Loon with Flounder
One of my favorite birds is the Common Loon, a mostly pescatarian seabird, 80 percent of whose diet is fish. Common Loons are expert divers who can stay underwater for a full minute while chasing fish, propelling themselves long distances with their large feet. Often, they eat their catch underwater, but this loon at Pt. Wilson popped up with a large flat fish. After dropping it a couple of times, allowing me to snap a few photos, the loon swallowed it down— a Right-eye Flounder (Family Pleuronectidae), maybe a Sand Sole (Psettichthys melanostictus) or a Starry Flounder (Platichthys stellatus).
8. Osprey with Fish
The Osprey, another of my favorite birds, eats almost exclusively fish, flying up to 131 feet over the water to find a fish, then hovering, and diving feet first. From my kayak, I’ve seen them hover and splash down into Mats Mats Bay, where they used two enormous nests this summer (one crashed down in our recent storm). They almost fully submerge, and then clutch the fish with their giant talons, or claws. Raptors use their talons to carry things, like sticks for nest building, and to capture, kill, and transport their prey. Osprey usually carry fish facing forward, with both their bodies lined up. Unfortunately, this is my only photo of an osprey with a small fish, resting on a tree at Cape George.
9. Bald Eagle with Salmon
Our glorious Bald Eagles aren’t highly successful at catching fish, their favorite food, but they are quite skilled at stealing fish from other birds, even from Osprey, and even in mid-air. One day friends and I hiked from Lake Ozette to the coast. Just as we arrived at the last trees before the beach, a Bald Eagle came flying towards us clutching a headless salmon in its four sharp talons, three facing forwards and one back, like a thumb, for better carrying. I’ve always wondered what happened to the salmon’s head!
10. Bald Eagle Eating Sculpin
One day this month, a Bald Eagle flew over Chinese Gardens Lagoon, clutching another large fish with its talons. The eagle landed on the top of a Douglas Fir tree and immediately began tearing the fish into bite-size pieces with its talons. In this same area, I had once saw something black and white, spinning from the air to the ground, like a drone. I only realized it was two eagles when they landed on the ground and flew off. They had locked their talons in the air and spun to the ground, part of their courtship during pair formation.
11. Belted Kingfishers with Shiner Perch
The Belted Kingfisher has teeny feet with claws, not large talons. I’ve heard that they need clear water to see a fish. I love to watch them hovering, then diving straight down, and plunging headfirst into the water to catch a fish with their huge bills. Belted Kingfishers show what’s called reverse sexual dimorphism. When male and female birds look different, usually the male bird is showier than the female. But in the case of the Belted Kingfisher, she is more brightly colored, with rusty feathers across her belly. One day at the Cape George marina, two females argued over a Shiner Perch while perching, and jumping up and down, on a sailboat boom.