[Tweeters] March 16 Westport Pelagic Trip – 2 Short-tailed Albatross, 8 Laysan Albatross, Manx Shearwater and more!

Gene Revelas grevelas at integral-corp.com
Sun Mar 17 09:48:47 PDT 2019

Hi Tweets –

We had an incredible start to the 2019 Westport Seabird season on Saturday, March 16, 2019. Highlights were two Short-tailed Albatross, eight Laysan Albatross, a Manx Shearwater, and seven alcid species, including Tufted Puffins, Marbled Murrelets, and an Ancient Murrelet.

The Monte Carlo left the Westport dock in the dark about 6:30 am and headed due west along our usual route to Grays Canyon. We had a compliment of 11 seabird enthusiasts, including many frequent Westport Seabird customers and five Westport Seabird spotters. The forecast promised and delivered great sea conditions with no rain and calm winds all day. A beautiful, pink sunrise with a glimmering bright halo around Mt. Rainier was our first visual treat of the day. We were a couple miles offshore before daylight allowed birds to be seen well and counted. The inner shelf had low numbers of the expected species, such as Pacific Loon, Common Murre, Surf and White-winged Scoter, Western X Glaucous-winged Gull hybrid, and Mew Gull. About 12 miles offshore, the first excited call of the day was “Manx Shearwater” as a small, white-bellied shearwater flew down the starboard side of the boat affording views to the folks looking that way. We continued west to deep water and starting picking up Black-legged Kittiwakes (which would be our most abundant gull for the day), our first Black-footed Albatross, and Northern Fulmars. Rhinoceros Auklets replaced Murres as the common large alcid, and Cassin’s Auklets began to appear. The first of what would be about six Pomarine Jaegers for the day, the only Jaeger species expected at this time year, was also seen. A distant Laysan Albatross was identified soaring above and below the horizon well ahead of us. Captain Phil Anderson, did a great job chasing and staying on this bird (think Nantucket sleigh ride) and everyone got good looks, which amazingly turned out to be our first of eight Laysans!

In deep water over the canyon edge, increasing numbers of Black-foots was a good omen. About 36 miles out, we stopped to chum. Phil cut the engine, a testament to the calm seas and light winds, and we enjoyed 30-45 minutes of seabirding in the quiet deep ocean setting. About 20 Black-footed Albatross joined us in turn over that time, as well as a couple more Laysans, numbers of Kittiwakes and Herring Gulls, and a few Thayers (Iceland) and adult California Gulls. On the radar, Phil noticed a fishing boat about 10 miles to our southwest, trawling along the continental shelf edge in deep water. We motored that way and this track in deep water just over the canyon edge turned out to be alcid alley as we observed and bumped many Rhinoceros and Cassin’s Auklets, and ultimately added four Tufted Puffins and an Ancient Murrelet along this corridor. A few possible Parakeet Auklet sightings, of birds flying away fast, were all confirmed to be Rhinos in the photos. Winter (October through April) is the expected season for this rare species off of Westport, but despite focused efforts, we could not find one yesterday.

As we arrived at the trawler in bright sunlight, we could see good numbers of Albatross and gulls in its wake. Fortuitously, the boat was just landing and processing its catch. Phil positioned us so we had the sun behind us, and we soon found ourselves sitting in the midst of about 100 Albatross and a similar number of gulls, many of which we sitting on the water. Fellow spotter, Bill Shelmerdine almost immediately called out “Short-tailed Albatross!” A large, dark juvenile albatross with an oversized, bubble gum pink bill was sitting about 50 yards off the port side of the boat among some Black-foots jockeying for fish scraps. All aboard scrambled to get on the bird, while Bill continued to scan and within a minute or so he called out a second Short-tailed Albatross close to the first one. Needless to say, pandemonium, as well as all cameras and even the smart phones aboard, broke out and we spent the next hour slowly meandering through these and the other birds in the wake of the trawler. During this time, we got to see the two Short-tailed Albatross repeatedly take off, fly short distances, and land and forage on the water. We had the same experience with the five Laysan Albatross and an estimated 90 Black-footed Albatross that were turned out to be in this gathering. We added a few dark-bellied shearwaters here, which all turned out to be Sooty rather than Short-tails on inspection. Many photos of this incredible scene will be included in the ebird checklists for this trip.

The world population of Short-tailed Albatross is currently estimated to be about 4500 birds and this vulnerable species, most of whom nest on the volcanic island of Torishima off Japan, was assumed to be extinct in the late 1940s. Young birds spending their early years of life at sea in the Northeast Pacific, like the birds we saw yesterday, is what saved this species from extinction when volcanic activity on Torishima decimated the nesting colony. To see two individuals together off of Washington state is truly remarkable and hopefully a sign of their improving numbers.

We finally had to head home, so we turned northeast for the trip back to the dock, picking up the previously mentioned Puffins and an Ancient Murrelet on this leg. Back on the outer continental shelf in about 500 ft of water, we saw several tall, thin whale blows just ahead of us. We slowed and as we got looks at the long, smooth, dark backs and dorsal fins of these three animals, we realized they were Fin Whales, the second largest species on earth (after Blue Whale) and another rare sighting for Washington. These animals cooperatively stayed at the surface, one was a very large, likely female, Fin Whale that appeared to be 70-80 ft in length, based on the rolling back to dorsal fin distance. Closer to the harbor entrance, we saw several Gray Whales spouting and showing their flukes on their northbound migration. We also got great looks at four Marbled Murrelets (two pair) close by on the water, still in basic (non-breeding) plumage, calling and doing their bill-up courtship display in unison. In this area, along the Jetty, and in the harbor, we added Red-throated Loon, Pigeon Guillemot, all three Cormorant species, and Brant to the trip bird list, as well as Steller’s and California Sea Lion, and Harbor Porpoise.

Back at the dock, it was all smiles after one of the most exciting days any of us had ever on a Westport Seabirds trip. As always, Captain Phil Anderson and is wife Chris made sure everyone had a comfortable trip. Official spotters for the trip were Bill Tweit, Gene Revelas, and Bruce Labar. Spotters Bill Shelmerdine and Cara Borre also joined us. The final numbers and complete species list will be posted on Westport Seabirds.com and on ebird (with many pictures).
Please check http://westportseabirds.com/ for the 2019 trip schedule and other information. Upcoming spring trips include April 20th, May 4th and 18th, and June 15th.
Hope to see you out there sometime soon!
Gene Revelas
Olympia, WA

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