Strange sounds at ferry landing

The nearest ferry landing is often a great place to do some birdwatching. It’s no secret certain bird species are attracted to these sites. All of the paraphernalia surrounding a ferry terminal is potential roosting and/or nesting areas for these birds.

A recent visit to the Kingston ferry landing reminded us of that, and what we thought would take about a half an hour ran well over an hour. We’ve birded this spot before, but it gave us an unexpected surprise this time.

A pair of pigeon guillemots flew past the dock in their unique torpedo style, and it became evident there were lots of guillemots feeding in the waters around the ferry landing. I was comforted to see that they were still in their black breeding colors and hadn’t started to change into fall plumage. That always seems to happen when summer is finally getting started. There wasn’t a turncoat anywhere, and for good reason.

They are still feeding young in the nest. After noticing all of these guillemots, I assumed they had nested in the high cliffs south of Kingston. That wasn’t the case. As we watched these birds dive for fish or fly past like fat bullets, a strange sound broke into our thoughts. Something or someone was doing a lot of high pitched whistling. It was a familiar sound and took only a minute or two to realize we were hearing the sound guillemots make around their nests. They were nesting in some interesting places around the dock and that was a surprise.

I don’t even know what to call the first nest site that we spotted. It was one of those metal spaces on part of the dock where a small building sits. It was a nook or cranny, and one of the guillemots landed on a shelf leading into the dark covered area. There was a small opening on the far side that let in enough light to watch the bird’s actions. Once inside, it was clear it was feeding a young guillemot. While enjoying this unexpected event, we kept a careful eye on other guillemots in the area and things got really interesting.

One of the nooks or crannies near the huge dolphin structures also held another guillemot nest — or two. This one had a ledge where the youngster was sitting, so we had a good view of the feeding.

A second nursery was perched a short distance away, but this one belonged to a pair of nesting glaucous-winged gulls. They had two very fluffy youngsters sitting with one of the adults.

This wasn’t the end of the guillemot discoveries. The most interesting was still to come.

We walked back to the end of the long pier that runs along the south side of the ferry landing. There was always a chance we might get another look at the young river otter we’d watched playing near the breakwater. Its whistling or “barking” generated a lot of interest, and everyone nearby was hanging over the pier’s railing to watch the little fellow swimming a few feet below. As we walked up the pier, we heard whistling, but it wasn’t the otter. The guillemots were still with us.

One came flying up a narrow flight path between the railing and the ferry dock, its bright red feet trailing out behind. Then it landed on a ledge that was part of the dock. It was greeted by a head that popped out of what looked like a drain spout coming up from under the dock. The place was full of pigeon guillemots. No sandy bank digging work for them. The burrows they chose to nest in had been created for them. These “drain spouts” run all along the dock and young guillemots are living in them.

Harlequin ducks, Caspian terns, a belted kingfisher and several cormorants added to the day’s interesting birds, but the guillemots were the highlight. We’ll be checking on them in the coming days. Here’s hoping the ferry powers-that-be do not have an eviction plan of some sort in the works.