[Tweeters] Pelagic trip to Swiftsure Bank and Juan de Fuca Canyon

B Boekelheide bboek at olympus.net
Tue Sep 18 13:09:07 PDT 2018

Hello, Tweeters,

To add to the excellent discussion about pelagic trips, on Saturday, 9/15, our group of 22 birders traveled on the M/V Windsong out of Neah Bay to Swiftsure Bank and the Juan de Fuca Canyon. We first passed west thru the mouth of the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Swiftsure Bank, where we spent a couple hours searching thru giant flocks of California Gulls, Sooty Shearwaters, and Sabine’s Gulls at Swiftsure. Their principal prey appeared to be krill or other invertebrates, as most birds fed by sitting on the water quickly picking small prey items from near the surface. In late morning and early afternoon we traveled south to an area at the northern end of the Juan de Fuca Canyon known as Table Top. The largest bird concentration in this area was southwest of Table Top, where we found several thousand shearwaters — mostly Sooties, along with hundreds of Pink-footeds, 56 or so Buller’s, and good looks at 2, maybe 3, Flesh-footed Shearwaters. We then returned by the coast and Tatoosh Island, viewing birds on the water and the islands.

Total number of birds, particularly at Swiftsure, was quite impressive, but also quite challenging. How do you count flocks of thousands of birds in constant motion feeding and flying over a couple square miles? Our approximate totals for the day were 22,500 California Gulls, 9600 Sooty Shearwaters, 1700 Sabine’s Gulls, and 1300 Pink-footed Shearwaters, but there could easily have been many more. Joining the birds at Swiftsure were approximately 21 feeding humpback whales scooping mouthfuls of seawater near our boat. Dall’s Porpoises zipped by near Table Top. Missing from the offshore mix: very few alcids, only four fulmars, one Fork-tailed Storm Petrel, and one Arctic Tern that flew by all by itself. Red-necked Phalaropes had a good day, but none that we could officially declare Reds. Unfortunately we don’t get to deep enough water for albatrosses.

One of our highlights was all the jaegers. Pomarines had a great day, with at least 20 and possibly as many as 30, along with 2 Parasitics, 8 Pomarine/Parasitics, 2 Long-tailed (one adult, one juvenile), and one big dark South Polar Skua. Some of the jaegers chased birds in flocks, but most flew by themselves away from flocks. Big jaeger migration time?

Another highlight was a very dark Merlin, possibly a Black Merlin, flying by our boat like a bat out of hell about 6 miles northwest of Cape Flattery. It appeared ahead of the boat, flew straight at us just a few feet above the water, and streaked past going a zillion miles an hour.

A couple hundred murres remained on the cliffs at Tatoosh Island, including surprisingly a few sites with large chicks still standing with parents. There were several father-chick murre pairs on the water, calling to each other. Other highlights along the coast included a large roost of 61 Black Oystercatchers east of Tatoosh in the Strait, flocks of Sandhill Cranes flying overhead, about 400 Brandt’s Cormorants feeding and roosting along the coast, and a dozen sea otters in the Tatoosh kelp beds.

Like others have said, it’s a great time to be out on the ocean right now.

Bob Boekelheide

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