[Tweeters] Pelagic trip from Neah Bay

B Boekelheide bboek at olympus.net
Tue Aug 21 22:07:58 PDT 2018

Hello, Tweeters,

To add to the excellent recent discussion about pelagic trips, last Saturday, Aug 18, eighteen of us traveled on the M/V Windsong out of Neah Bay. After leaving Neah Bay, our route passed the west entrance of the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Swiftsure Bank, which lies 10-15 nautical miles WNW of Cape Flattery. After surveying Swiftsure Bank for about 3 hours, we traveled south to the head of the Juan de Fuca Canyon at an area known as Table Top, another bank surrounded by deeper water. We finished the day slowly cruising around Tatoosh Island before returning into the Strait and Neah Bay. Unfortunately it was foggy most of the day, with visibilities varying between less than 1/4 mi to 2 mi all day. Despite low visibilities, we had a great day and saw excellent numbers of birds.
The highlight of the trip was Swiftsure Bank. We found flocks of thousands of Pink-footed and Sooty Shearwaters, Sabine’s and California Gulls, fulmars, phalaropes, and a variety of other species over several square miles on the eastern and southern margins of the bank. We encountered many large feeding flocks, mostly birds sitting on the surface picking prey out of the water. The main attraction appeared to be krill, visible in the water near feeding flocks. Other treats were amazing surface schools of black cod (or sablefish, which are normally caught very deep), many jumping silver salmon, forage fish (herring?), along with numerous humpback whales, a couple gray whales, harbor porpoises, one pilot whale, three big Mola molas, and many jellyfish, including one huge Lions Mane Jelly. It was truly a thrill to see a productive natural area like this teeming with life, without any human involvement.

Stars of the day were Pink-footed Shearwaters and Sabine’s Gulls. Pink-footed Shearwaters far outnumbered Sooties at Swiftsure Bank. We estimated 6500 Pink-footeds and 2400 Sooties at the Bank, but these numbers are only minimum guesses considering the large flocks and reduced visibility. At times we were surrounded by flocks of shearwaters as far as we could see in the foggy haze. We also watched many large flocks of Sabine’s Gulls, sometimes scrambling over food on the water and sometimes flying in unison like snowflakes. We estimated 3600 Sabine’s Gulls just at Swiftsure, likely one of their prime locations on the West Coast. Most of the Sabine’s were adults, with less than 10 percent juveniles mixed in the flocks. Next most abundant were California Gulls, which, in contrast, were curiously almost all hatching-year birds. The jaeger of the day was Pomarine, with at least a dozen at Swiftsure, and only one Parasitic seen from the stern. Alas, no skuas. Also no albatrosses, because we didn’t get into deeper water.

On the way back we drifted by Tatoosh Island, seeing approximately 3000 murres both in the water and on the cliffs, including several dads with recently fledged chicks in the water. Also great looks at 26 Tufted Puffins and 24 Cassin’s Auklets on the water near the island, and a few thousand each Glaucous-winged and California Gulls on the island. In the kelp on the west side of the island we were treated to at least a dozen sea otters, including moms with pups, along with harbor seals and Steller and California sea lions hauled out on the islets.

There are only a couple spaces left on the next M/V Windsong trip from Neah Bay on Saturday, Sept 15. Contact Denny Van Horn If you are interested.

Bob Boekelheide
Denny Van Horn
dennyvanhorn at gmail.com

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