[Tweeters] Sea adventures

Patricia Quyle Grainger paq at olypen.com
Sun Sep 15 09:31:55 PDT 2019

What a fantastic Year of Adventure you and John are having! Thank you for sharing your year, and providing the inspiration to explore beyond our comfort zones.

Pat Grainger
Port Townsend

Sent from my iPad

> On Sep 15, 2019, at 9:18 AM, Constance Sidles <constancesidles at gmail.com> wrote:


> Hey tweets, for the past few weeks, John and I have been spending our Year of Adventure exploring the places where the land wrestles the sea, where the masters of the wind soar over the turbulent waves, and the strongest forces on Earth work to wear each other down or build each other up.


> We began with a Westport pelagic in mid-August with Captain Phil Anderson piloting the Monte Carlo into rough seas, with swells of 6 feet and short periods, the perfect conditions to draw in seabirds and induce those of us with recalcitrant stomachs to offer up donations to the waves. Our destination was the edge of the continental shelf some 30 miles offshore, where North America abruptly ends and relatively shallow, inshore seas give way to the true, deep-blue waters of the ocean. This is where the seabirds gather to harvest the rich food that wells up from the dark, cold depths. It's a two-hour journey to reach this intersection of land and sea, but Black-footed Albatrosses and Sooty Shearwaters started showing up much earlier than that, a harbinger of the vast flocks of seabirds who spend most of their lives in this restless place.


> It is an alien place to me. Everything is in constant motion, and the depths conceal the life that never left the sea, predators such as sharks, mola molas that lie on their sides and catch jellyfish, and the tiny krill and other microscopic creatures that form the base of the food chain out here. Joining these sea creatures are the many species who used to live on land but went back to the sea: Humpback whales, northern fur seals, white-sided dolphins, sea-lions, and the seabirds who are at home on wind and wave.


> Pelagic birding is the most exciting, fastest kind of birding there is. Seabirds out here can coast along at 35 mph, but when the wind is blowing hard, they go even faster, though they make it all look easy. Meanwhile, the vessel is cruising along at 20 mph too, which can make for freeway speeds when the boat and the bird coordinate their flight paths. Adding to the difficulty are the swells and wind chop, which alternately hide and reveal the birds, but only for brief glimpses. You have to be ready with your binoculars to instantly get on a bird and then take in all its field marks before it disappears into the ether, never to return. This can be a challenge when all the birds are plumaged in some iteration of gray-black-white. No amount of studying your field guides prepares you for this split-second kaleidoscope of grayscale motion, though I spent days and days boning up on seabird field marks.


> Luckily, Captain Phil's team includes some of the finest pelagic birders in the world, people who can spot birds from afar and ID them quickly. And Phil is no slouch, either. I felt grateful to all of them for their skill, but I wanted to "see" the birds myself, meaning, I wanted to be able to tell for myself why one bird was a Sooty Shearwater and another was a Short-tailed, or why that lumpy blob flying as fast as it can to get away from our intrusiveness was a Cassin's Auklet and not a Rhinoceros. It's all a matter of observing many birds over and over, emblazoning them into your cortex till you can see them with your eyes closed. I think I can do that now with Sooty Shearwaters, remembering their silvery underwings glinting in the light, then shadowed from view as the birds sheared the wave fronts. Back on land, I can turn my mind's eye inward and see them flow past, dancing as they go, drawing me along with them to glide away into the distance.


> The first pelagic I ever went on was with the woman who practically invented this form of birding 35 years ago, my friend Debi Shearwater. She runs pelagics out of Monterey, where a deep underwater canyon close to shore brings the cold water welling up from the depths. It doesn't take long to reach the seabirds here, a major advantage if you're as prone to seasickness as I am. Small craft warnings were out on my inaugural voyage years ago. Aware that many of us newbies were nervous about getting sick, Debi advised us to keep our eyes on the horizon, which would fool our brains into thinking we weren't moving as much as we really were. Unfortunately, on that day the waves were so mountainous I couldn't even see the horizon. For me, the most familiar part of the boat became my friend, the rail. I felt sick even before we left the harbor.


> On the other hand, the birds were right there to thrill and distract me. Who cares about your stomach when a Laysan Albatross is paddling almost at your feet and you can stare down into the water to watch shearwaters diving for chum?


> Years later, my oldest son told me his philosophy about wilderness adventure. He and his best friend went on a hike to a wilderness lake in Washington, a distance the map said was a rigourous but doable 15 miles, round-trip. It was a sunny day that grew hot as only the mountains can get in summer. The two friends hiked and hiked but didn't reach the lake or any sign of a lake. Long after they believed they should have arrived, they sat down to think things over. They were footsore and mosquito-bitten. Rivulets of sweat drew pales lines through the dust on their faces. My son's friend pulled off his new boots to examine the blisters that had bled through his sox. They studied their map and realized they had misread the distance. They weren't even halfway to the lake. They sat in silence for awhile. Then my son said, "We can't let our discomfort define our fun."


> I thought of that as I prepared last week to go on another pelagic, this one with Debi again in Monterey. She has announced that this is her last season, and I wanted to celebrate it with her. Again, small craft warnings were out. I felt apprehensive until I remembered my son's philosophy. My stomach would just have to ignore the butterflies already fluttering. "You don't run the show, and you can't define my fun," I told it, gave Debi a hug and a big smile, and went on board. As the boat left the dock, a Green Heron came winging in, right over the head of a tiny Red-necked Phalarope furiously spinning in the water to bring up food from below the surface. Any day you see a Green Heron and phalarope is a magical day, and indeed this one was.


> We saw blue whales, sea otters cradling babies, silvery/brown Sooty Shearwaters, shining white Sabine's Gulls, and a beautiful Ashy Storm-Petrel dancing right off the bow, along with all the other seabirds that make pelagic trips so exciting. But despite my great love of these wild and free birds, the most memorable moment for me came when a pod of white-sided dolphins spotted us and sped over to surf the bow wave.


> I was standing at the prow when they arrived. Right below me, they raced along, coming up for a nanosecond to open their little blowholes, take a breath, and submerge again for more racing. At one point, one of the dolphins exhaled so hard it blew mist right into my face. For an instant, I breathed dolphin breath.


> Thousands of years ago, the ancient Egyptians would perform a last rite for their departed loved ones: using a ceremonial spoon, they would open their loved one's mouth so he or she could breathe the breath of life and live again in spirit. I leaned over the rail, spread my arms, breathed in the dolphin mist, and felt my spirit merge with the sea. I was transformed. - Connie


> csidles at constancypress.com

> constancesidles at gmail.com


> P.S. Here are all the birds I saw on our two pelagics (I list only the birds we saw from the boats); I'll leave it to you to decide whether our sightings were in Washington, California, or both:


> Greater White-fronted Goose

> Marbled Godwit

> Ruddy Turnstone

> Black Turnstone

> Surfbird

> Short-billed Dowitcher

> Red-necked Phalarope

> South Polar Skua

> Parasitic Jaeger

> Long-tailed Jaeger

> Common Murre (with dads chirping to their "teens")

> Pigeon Guillemot

> Cassin's Auklet

> Scripps's Auklet

> Rhinoceros Auklet

> Tufted Puffin (in breeding plumage)

> Sabine's Gull

> Bonaparte's Gull

> Heermann's Gull

> Ring-billed Guill

> California Gull

> Western Gull

> Common Tern

> Arctic Tern

> Caspian Tern

> Common Loon

> Laysan Albatross

> Black-footed Albatross

> Northern Fulmar (both color morphs)

> Short-tailed Shearwater

> Sooty Shearwater

> Pink-footed Shearwater

> Buller's Shearwater

> Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel

> Ashy Storm-Petrel

> Double-crested Cormorant

> Brandt's Cormorant

> Pelagic Cormorant

> Brown Pelican

> Great Blue Heron

> Great Egret

> Green Heron

> Peregrine Falcon

> Belted Kingfisher

> Barn Swallow

> Yellow Warbler


> Mammals:

> Sea otters

> California sea lion

> Steller's sea lion

> Harbor seal

> Northern fur seal

> Blue whales

> Humpback whales

> White-sided dolphins

> Risso's dolphins


> Also: Mako shark

> Blue shark

> Mola mola







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