Date: 7/29/22 11:01 am From: Jim Danzenbaker <jdanzenbaker...> Subject: [Tweeters] Westport Seabirds July 27 pelagic trip report
Experience has shown that the cure for the common heat wave is to go coastal and beyond. With that in mind and expectations of pelagic wildlife at the forefront, we gathered on the *Monte Carlo* in Westport for what would prove to be a great day at sea. Briefings completed, we headed out of the inner harbor under a flock of Marbled Godwits overhead and Pigeon Guillemots (24) leading the way.
The fickle fingers of fog which seem to appear when it's very hot inland were trying their best to form but never materialized enough to adversely affect viewing so we were able to see what lay ahead. Large flocks of Common Murres (881) were great to see as were Rhinoceros Auklets (69) and Sooty Shearwaters (707).
The first highlight of the day cut the surface of the water for all to see - a pod of 7 Orca(!), probably of the transient population which travels along the Pacific Coast. The pod included one very young one - maybe a first year Orca! Many photos were taken and instructions circulated to send the photos to Orca researchers to determine their lineage and to add them to the library of Orca photos. We motored onwards but not without a brief stop for a Humpback Whale (3) and to view Red Phalaropes (78), some showing quite a bit of rusty plumage. A far off South Polar Skua (6) was a portent of things to come and a pair of fast moving sleek Dall's Porpoises (9) raced in front of our bow.
We approached the shrimp fleet that had set their nets but were not yet hauling them in so the Pink-footed (203), Sooty (707), and surprisingly numerous Short-tailed Shearwaters (84) were mostly on the water waiting for their meals to eventually be brought to the surface. We estimated that the dark shearwaters were split 2/3 Sooty and 1/3 Short-tailed. Those of you who were on Westport Seabirds trips last season might recognize this as a repeat of the standout performance of Short-tailed Shearwaters. Ordinarily, they should be in the Beaufort Sea right now so their appearance off Washington in this quantity this early is great for birders but probably doesn't bode well for the shearwaters. Hunger may have caused their departure from Alaskan waters. Ordinarily, we might see a couple on a late July trip. Black-footed Albatross (53) and Northern Fulmar (79) rounded out the tubenose show which afforded excellent comparisons of size, flight style, and plumage. Maybe the most unusual bird at the shrimp fleet was a very fresh first cycle Heermann's Gull. This is a species that usually doesn't wander more than a mile or so off shore so to see one, a first cycle no less, at about 26 miles out was truly unusual. A variety of California and Western/Glaucous-winged/gull soup gulls rounded out the show.
Our foray into the deep water off the edge of the Continental Shelf netted our goal of Leach's Storm-Petrel (24) and a few Fork-tailed Storm-Petrels (15) but the lack of a good breeze prevented our chum spot from attracting very many birds. A beautiful adult Tufted Puffin (2) flew by close to the delight of all but it didn't stop for a prolonged visit. A few Blue Sharks (37) circled the boat while several Sabine's Gulls flew overhead. We decided to return to the shelf. That's when things started to pop! A flock of Sabine's Gulls (8) on the water included one first year bird. Soon after, someone spied a bird on a log which turned out to be an alternate plumaged Arctic Tern (1) - a great bird to see well. Then the jaeger dam broke.
On our trip out, our only jaegers were very distant and unsatisfactory. Now the fun was upped to another level. First a flock of 3 Long-tailed Jaegers (12) were seen which was great but they didn't come close enough for good photos. Then, the call of incoming jaeger had us looking upwards and 1 Long-tailed Jaeger overhead turned into 2, then 3 then 4 then 5! Many pixels were spent solidifying these memories. Not to be outdone, a few Parasitic Jaegers (5) were also in the area. Finally, the seminal call of "South Polar Skua" (6) was heard and we watched as it flew by - very much the flying tank that separates it from all other species in the marine realm. We were on the cusp of the skua slam which made the two Pomarine Jaegers (1-2) seen a bit later even more appreciated. A few jaegers were too distant to be identified (5). Not to be outdone, we circled an adult Tufted Puffin on the water, more pixels being spent to cement another memory.
Our trip back to shore had us motoring through mixed phalarope flocks with a chance to compare Red-necked Phalarope (43) to Red Phalarope (78). A surprising number of Mola Molas (8) were seen - all of them on the larger side of the size spectrum. A Northern Elephant Seal corked on the water for most to see and a Northern Fur Seal waved at us for a bit before submerging. Diminutive Cassin's Auklets (33) were present but in a limited quantity. Within about 5 miles of the jetties, we found a group of Gray Whales (8) in an area where we've encountered them in previous years. A few channel markers were draped with Steller's Sea Lions (4). The south jetty held both Wandering Tattler (3) and Surfbird (1) as well as all three cormorants (Double-crested - 8, Pelagic - 24, Brandt's - 92) and Brown Pelicans (142). The inner harbor added Black Turnstone (4) and a view of the growing flock of Marbled Godwits (157) and Whimbrel (5) on one of the floats. As always, our return was noted by the watchful eyes of the Harbour Seals.
Westport Seabirds thanks all of the enthusiastic participants who make these trips a success. Also, accolades to Phil and Chris Anderson whose professional, courteous, and friendly persona make everyone feel at ease. Thanks also to our guides today who were Bill "hey, there's another South Polar Skua" Shelmerdine, Bill Tweit, and yours truly. Bill Tweit is a wealth of Washington marine life knowledge and I always feel privileged to be on a boat with him.