Cassin’s Auklet

On yesterday’s trip to Ataku Island, a highlight for me was seeing my first Cassin’s Auklets. We were out off Long Island and headed to the outside of Cape Burnof when I first noticed the gray bird on the water that I thought looked a bit different. We were able to turn around and check it out closer. It started doing an interesting behavior that I initially thought might be an escape move. It would dip just barely under the water and swim along not far below the surface. I could see the track of disturbed water as it moved and then it would pop up only briefly and continue along in the same fashion. After several minutes of this, I decided maybe it was actually some sort of feeding behavior, as a second auklet was also doing something similar. In the images below, note the one where an auklet has its wings spread a bit and the water is splashing to the side. At the bottom of that picture you can see the disturbance of a second auklet just below the surface.

I did not end up getting much in the way of good photos of these birds near Cape Burunof, and in the end I thought they were probably Cassin’s Auklets, but wasn’t sure I had a photograph that would be good enough to document it conclusively. Later on, as we were off of Redoubt Bay, I noticed a couple of other birds take off that I thought might have been Cassin’s Auklets, but there was little point in stopping. Shortly after there was one sitting on the water that we were able to slow down and check out. This one was more cooperative for photographs than the first had been, so I was able to get some better shots to document it.

More generally, I’m not sure how often Cassin’s Auklets can be found on Sitka Sound. I’ve heard they are common offshore, and they are regularly reported from lower Chatham Strait and Frederick Sound east of Baranof Island. It seems a little strange that they are (apparently) not regularly seen in the sound, but it’s my first time noticing them, and I’ve only heard a handful of other reports from over the years.

Thanks to the captain of the Fucus for the boat trip and to my other travelling companions for their patience with my desire to get some photos of these elusive (for me, anyway) birds.

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