Yesterday we had another great trip with Westport Seabirds, though early in the day we had our reservations. The highlight of the trip for most came when we encountered two GUADALUPE’ MURRELETS (GuMu) on the water at about 1100 AM. The birds stayed on the water and everyone on board was able to get reasonable looks. Some of the photographers were even able to snap a few pictures. But I’ve gotten ahead of myself, so let me back up a bit.
The day started with a challenge as fog and mist hampered viewing early, wind chop made the seas a bit bumpy despite a rather low swell with decent period. This was an outer slope trip with rather low numbers of birds on the outbound leg. As a result we made our way directly to Grays Canyon and beyond the shelf edge with few stops in-route. Fog and mist had limited visibility ½ to ¼ mile much of the way. As we continued beyond the shelf edge conditions lightened, visibility improved and we began to pick up Leaches Storm Petrels and the occasional Black-footed Albatross and Fork-tailed Storm Petrel. We stopped to chum in deep water beyond the canyon edge. The light breeze did not help our cause and the chum slick produced low numbers of Leaches Storm Petrels and single Sabines Gull and Fork-tailed Storm Petrel. Still, we had good looks at Leaches, a much sought after species on these trips.
With an unusually quiet chum stop, Skipper Phil Anderson made a great decision to depart the chum stop early and turn south along the shelf edge before turning east to the where at least one shrimp boat was working along the edge. This turned out to be the ticket and our fortunes changed for the better. A few miles south a pair of small alcids were spotted well ahead of the boat. Suspecting Murrelets we slowed and approached cautiously. With improving views we were able to see a significant amount of white in front of the eye and a face pattern consistent with the rare Guadalupe Murrelet and quite distinct from the uncommon, but more expected Scripp’s Murrelet. Continuing south the birding improved and good views of some very cooperative Cassin’s Auklets were obtained. At this point the day just kept getting better…
Back at the shelf edge, a shrimp boat had been working the area. There were many birds on the water including Black-footed Albatross (about 50), and a couple hundred Pink-footed Shearwaters along with lower numbers of Sooties. Many Fork-tailed Storm Petrels were working the area and our first Northern Fulmars were found here as well. We stopped, shut off the engines and chummed. Most species came in very close to the boat at this point, much to the delight of the photographers on board. Several Blue Sharks were working the area, often coming right up to the boat. It was interesting watching the sharks and albatross challenge each other for food items on the surface.
After spending some quality time at this second chum stop we slowly motored through the flocks on the water, adding to the numbers recorded offshore. Turning east for the in-bound leg we had calm conditions and good visibility. Somewhere in-route we spotted a large, bulky, dark brown bird in the distance sitting on the water. We turned south and approached our first and only South Polar Skua of the day, a very dark morph in heavy wing molt. The day was unusual in it’s lack of Jeagers and offshore Gulls. The remainder of the trip continued to add numbers but no new species. Closer to shore a couple of Humpback Whales passed close and large rafts of Sooty Shearwaters (more than 10,000) added greatly to our numbers despite the return of foggy conditions at 15 miles out.
As we entered the harbor, a pass close to the south jetty found at least 8 Ruddy Turnstones in fine alternate plumage among the more common Black Turnstones. Inside the harbor we added many of the typical nearshore species. Spotters for the trip were Gene Revelas, Bruce Labar, and Bill Shelmerdine. Phil and Chris Anderson provided expert boat handling, logistics, and additional spotting skills.
Official trip numbers will be compiled and added to the Westport Seabirds Website and entered into ebird. For now, offshore species included: Black-footed Albatross, Northern Fulmar, Pink-footed and Sooty Shearwater, Fork-tailed and Leaches Storm Petrels, Red-necked Phalarope, Rhinoceros and Cassin’s Auklet, Common Murre, Pigeon Guillemot, Guadalupe’ and Marbled Murrelet, South-Polar Skua, and Western, California, and Sabines Gull. Marine Mammals included Humpback Whale, Pacific White-sided and Northern Right-whale Dolphin, Dall’s and Harbor Porpoise, Northern Elephant and Harbor Seals, and Stellar’s Sea-Lion. Other interesting critters included Mola Mola and Blue Shark.