A full contingent of birders from as far away as Florida and Pennsylvania, as well as our group from the Vancouver Audubon Society, boarded the Monte Carlo for a Westport Seabirds pelagic trip early Thursday morning. We hoped for cooperative weather so we could get great views of the myriad wildlife that inhabits the offshore waters, but sometimes nature throws a curveball. It turned out that the sea conditions were great, the air conditions weren’t so great at the beginning, with a fairly heavy fog which lasted until it was washed away with a persistent light to moderate rain. However, pelagic birders are tough and we endured the conditions until the rain stopped and the wildlife took center stage. Numbers seen follow each species in ().
Heermann’s Gulls, Brown Pelicans, Pigeon Guillemots (23 – presumed migrants to the Salish Sea), Common Murres (103 with at least 5 chicks), and Rhinoceros Auklets (39) led us to the continental shelf beyond the jetties where we were greeted by Sooty Shearwaters (4724) which emerged from the fog for brief but identifying looks. A few Rednecked Phalaropes (3) fed nearby. We located some Cassin’s Auklets (7), always great to see their attempts to get airborne after feasting on plankton, krill, and other small crustaceans. Pinkfooted Shearwaters (1209) and Northern Fulmars (39) slowly emerged. It’s good to have new species introduced in an orderly fashion so all aboard could differentiate each species by plumage, profile, and flight before the next new species appeared.
A light in the distance penetrated the lifting fog which indicated that we had arrived at the first shrimper. We were not the first to arrive at this location. We quickly became aware that there were at least 500+ tubenoses in the area which included 300 Pink-footed Shearwaters, 200 (!!!!) Short-tailed Shearwaters (323) and 6 Sooty Shearwaters. Northern Fulmars, Black-footed Albatrosses (20), and Fork-tailed Storm-Petrels (30) also joined in. This season has brought us the unexpected. We are usually searching through hundreds of Sootys for a Short-tailed Shearwater. Today, we searched through 200+ Short-tailed Shearwaters for a Sooty Shearwater for comparison which, quite frankly, was almost ridiculous…in a good way. Cameras clicked and sighs of relief prevailed as the rain slowly diminished. We then ventured to Grays Harbor Canyon for some deep sea birding. Our chum slick slowly enticed additional birds to the Monte Carlo. An Arctic Tern (1), epic pole-to-pole migrant, flew over as well as several spiffy Sabine’s Gulls (5). A Semipalmated Plover (1) showed up, but I don’t think it was having a very good day.
Upon our return to the shrimp boats, we chummed a bit more and were mobbed by hundreds of squeaking Pink-footed Shearwaters, gurgling Northern Fulmars, and braying Black-footed Albatrosses in addition to more sedate Fork-tailed Storm-Petrels and Sooty and Short-tailed Shearwaters. A highlight was a cooperative pristine Flesh-footed Shearwater (1) and several Buller’s Shearwaters (4), both from New Zealand which, although uncommon, are fairly regularly encountered on Westport Seabirds trips at this time of year. The first of four South Polar Skuas (4) winged its way through, as well as the second Pomarine Jaeger (2) of the day. A
Tufted Puffin (1) bulleted by, seen by all, but only briefly. On our way back to shore,
we recorded two distant Parasitic Jaegers (2). We were going for the skua slam (South Polar Skua + three jaeger species) but the Long-tailed was a no-show.
One area held 10 feeding Humpback Whales which was a crowd pleaser. I love calling out “fluke, fluke, fluke” before the massive whale tails emerged which indicated a whale dive. Dall’s Porpoises were also spotted (10), their distinctive rooster-tail splash a clear identifying mark for this marine speedster. 10 Mola Molas (Ocean Sunfish) and 6 Blue Sharks were seen quite well.
We looked for rocky shorebirds along the south jetty and were rewarded with Wandering Tattlers (5). The Marbled Godwit flock (1000+) in the inner harbor
held a single molting adult Bar-tailed Godwit, a species that is a Fall staple in this massive contingent of godwits. Whimbrel (2), Willet (1) and Black Turnstones (4) rounded out the shorebird show. Harbor Seals watched the end of another successful Westport Seabirds trip. Captain Phil and first mate Chris Anderson, as well as the three guides, Bill Tweit, Gene Revelas, and I, thank all the participants for their patience during the fog and rain and for the camera clicks and smiling faces at the feeding frenzy. As mentioned before, the actual sea conditions were great and your enthusiasm during the trip was appreciated! Even though a bit damp, everyone left happy with visions of close-feeding shearwaters, loafing mola molas, and impressive Humpback Whales.