Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Mystery Bird Photographed in an Eagle’s Talons in Port Townsend

Tropical bird spotted at North Beach was far from its normal habitat

A Bald Eagle with a brown booby in its grasp. Credit: Tim Lawson

Sometimes it starts with a simple question. “What is in the talons of that Bald Eagle?” OK, maybe that’s not a simple question. Talons, Bald Eagle, what? 

Recently Tim Lawson, one of the Port Townsend Marine Science Center’s longtime supporters, sent us his remarkable photos, trying to confirm what he had captured digitally. He had a hunch, but the outrageousness of the idea that it may be a vagrant tropical bird needed some backup, so he asked some of the community’s leading birders for their thoughts.

This avian puzzle rippled out from local experts to regional specialists. Emails were sent, photos shared and carefully studied. Turns out, Tim’s hunch was right, it was a tropical bird that had wandered thousands of miles from its range: a Brown Booby (Sula leucogaster*).

In the Americas, you would more likely find a Brown Booby off the coast of Mexico, or flying over the Caribbean. Australia is also home for Brown Booby. But the Strait of Juan de Fuca in February is extremely unusual.

Tim described the bird as “Brown neck, mantle, back and wings. Medium to large bird. Long yellow beak, large yellow feet, long tail.” 

A brown booby (source:

Audubon’s online guide says, “In North America [the Brown Booby] is seen most often near the Dry Tortugas, Florida,” with the only currently known nesting sites in Hawaii. This bird indeed lived up to the term “vagrant” defined by Audubon, “straying well outside of regular ecological range.”

Matt Bartels of the Washington Bird Records Committee replied to Tim’s submission, saying that it was unusual, if not as rare as it used to be, and posed the question, “Was it dead before the eagle got to it?”

Finding Brown Boobys in Washington state is fairly unusual but not unheard of. Apparently 3-4 are reported each year. One was reported in November 2020 in Willapa Bay by a crew harvesting oysters. It died with a completely empty stomach. 

Other Booby species have been recorded in Washington and Oregon. In early August 2006, a Blue-Footed Booby showed up in Skagit County, while another was retrieved a few days later from the I-5 bridge over the Columbia River in Oregon. It is now preserved in Tacoma’s Slater Museum collection.

We had experienced a cold snap the week that Tim took his photos. Freezing cold makes life for a tropical bird extremely difficult. Could that have stunned it before the Eagle hit? Or had it been a stow-away aboard a cargo ship heading this way from southern climes? We will never know.

Thanks to Tim Lawson for sharing his photos and for asking the question in the first place: What is that bird in the Eagle’s talons?

*Sula is the Norwegian word for gannet, and leucogaster is derived from the ancient Greek leuko = white and gaster = belly. Brown, masked, red-footed and blue-footed boobys are all relatives of the northern gannet and known for their spectacular, almost splashless plunge-dives into schools of small fish. None of these sulids are usually found in the Salish Sea. 

Written by PTMSC Community Science Coordinator Betsy Carlson.

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Water World Online: April 26-30


Water World Online, a dynamic collaboration between Centrum and the Port Townsend Marine Science Center, is filled with activities and projects that expand and enhance elementary students’ experience of the marine world through the lenses of both science and art.

In collaboration with artists, scientists, and peers from across the state, students integrate scientific investigations with creative writing and visual art. The result is a multi-faceted, full immersion online learning experience.

Students work in small groups that rotate through a variety of interactive classes and labs. Each day offers a mix of both scientific and artistic workshops. The group size is small to allow for maximum personal attention and engagement.

Classes will be grounded in scientific studies and current issues about the Puget Sound and Salish Sea. These place-based lessons will be used to connect students to their local ecosystems state-wide through readily applied concepts such as water quality, watershed conservation, and developing awareness of the importance of wild, undamaged habitats and how to live in better harmony with nature.

Through a combination of online classes, at-home labs and experiments, and optional local field trips, students learn to work as scientists—exploring nature outside in their own neighborhood; studying plankton and invertebrate through online lessons; and drawing and writing to keenly observe and explore fish, birds, wildlife, invertebrates, waves, wind, and other natural features.

How does it work?
For this program, student groups of 4 to 6 sign up from their school or organization. Larger groups may be accommodated – contact Becky Berryhill for more information (

Every student will receive a package in the mail before the program begins, with all of the supplies needed to participate in the classroom and at-home activities. Students will log in for two Zoom classes every day to learn about and practice marine science, writing, and visual arts. Later in the day, students will partake in at-home experiments and activities, and share their artistic creations and scientific findings with their classmates and artist faculty with daily check-ins and a private online message board. 

For more information and to register, check out Centrum's Water World website.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

FUTURE OF OCEANS Lecture Series: "What Can Puffins Tell Us About The Impact Of Climate Change On Marine Ecosystems?”

Sunday, March 14
3 pm 
via ZOOM

Lecture is FREE 


Our lecture series, The Future of Oceans, draws on the commitment of professional researchers and educators across all academic spectrums to help define and inspire the health of our oceans.

The Port Townsend Marine Science Center continues the lecture series by welcoming John F. Piatt, Ph.D. John’s talk will focus on Tufted Puffins in Alaska, how the composition of their diets reflects long-term cycles in marine climate, and how puffins and other seabirds reacted to the strong marine heatwave (“The Blob”) in 2014-2016. 

Dr. Piatt got hooked on seabirds in the 1970s while working on a large puffin colony in  Newfoundland. Following stints as a summer naturalist at a gannet colony, and surveying birds and whales off the coasts of Labrador and Baffin Island, he turned in the 1980s to studies of the ecological relationships between capelin (a marine smelt), cod, seabirds, and whales for his Ph.D. at Memorial University of Newfoundland. Lured to Alaska in 1987 to study auklets in the Bering Sea, Dr. Piatt remained to work there for 34 more years on seabirds and marine food webs and is now a senior research scientist at the USGS Alaska Science Center. His current research focuses on the overarching role of ocean climate in regulating the abundance and quality of the forage fish that support seabird populations.  

More info about the lecturer and his research program:


*Be sure to also get your ticket for a

Deep Dive Conversation with John F. Piatt, Ph.D.

A science-cafe style, moderated discussion

via Zoom

Monday, March 15 6:30 pm 

$5 per ticket - limited to 20 passes!