[Tweeters] Westport Seabirds Trip Report August 21, 2021

Cara Borre cmborre1 at gmail.com
Fri Aug 27 09:06:06 PDT 2021

Westport Seabirds had a fantastic voyage Saturday, August 21st. The
weather was fair and mostly dry with gray skies clearing to sunny for the
ride back. Early swells subsided further offshore, and as is typical, our
return trip was quite smooth. Total species numbers for the day appear in

Like most trips, this one began at dawn, 6am. Eager birders scanned the
poorly lit Marbled Godwit flock for a chance at spotting the recently seen
rare Bar-tailed Godwits (1-seen on return). As we left the harbor, and
the nearshore world of Brown Pelican (355), Brandt’s Cormorant (125), and
Pigeon Guillemot (9), we entered an offshore zone full of Sooty Shearwater
(5609) and Common Murre (2018). Typically our journey to deeper water,
and/or offshore fishing vessels, can seem arduous as there is often a
scarcity of birds to detract from the monotony of the sea. This voyage
however, was unique as there seemed to be something to garner our interest
most of the day. Early finds included Red-necked Phalarope (102),
Rhinoceros Auklet (98), and swirls of gulls and Sooty Shearwater feeding
above a presumed bait ball below.

We were fortunate to have shrimping boats as a destination, and on the way
we added Pink-footed Shearwater (579) and fellow spotters Bill Shelmerdine
and Scott Mills noted a few Short-tailed Shearwaters, a preview of what was
to come. Our tally increased with Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel (634), Sabine’s
Gull (30), a single Common Tern, and several Pomarine Jaegers (10), but
then our bird viewing was temporarily interrupted by a small pod of pacific
white-sided dolphins. While admiring their gray and white sides, as they
porpoised and passed close to the boat, we were able to pick out a few
northern right whale dolphins among them. Northern right whale dolphins
stand out with their finless, all black backs. The dolphins stayed with us
for a bit, as Phil slowed the boat for us to enjoy them, then as suddenly
as they appeared, they were gone.

As we neared the shrimp boats on our horizon, bird activity increased and
we added Northern Fulmar (75), Black-footed Albatross (60), and our first
Buller’s Shearwater (3) of the season. Once at the boats it was clear the
number of Short-tailed Shearwater (317) was going to be massive;
outnumbering its look-a-like Sooty Shearwater by 3:1 during our shrimp boat
encounters. Novice seabirders, and even veterans, may take on faith the
identification of Short-tailed Shearwater as they listen to the spotters
reviewing its subtle differences from Sooty. Fortunately we were afforded
excellent on the water views of resting birds making it easy to appreciate
the shorter bill, and steeper forehead. Combined these features impart a
smaller, rounder head to the Short-tailed Shearwater.

Short-tailed Shearwater’s flight style is decidedly different from that of
Sooty Shearwater and can be the first clue to be on the lookout for other
field marks. The Short-tailed Shearwater has a stiffer, more rapid
wingbeat than Sooty’s classic 3-7 smooth, quick flaps followed by a
sustained glide. Often described as “erratic”, “snappier” or “swift-like”,
I see more resemblance to the flight style (at least the actual flapping)
of Northern Fulmar than its genus sharing cousin Sooty. Thankfully
Short-tailed Shearwater are attracted to boats so we had ample opportunity
to study flight style as they circled the Monte Carlo.

After enjoying the boats for a good long while, we departed for the deeper
waters of our chum stop. Like much of the day, these waters were already
churning with a bit of bird activity before we laid down our fish oil
cocktail. Representatives of the aforementioned species came in for close
observation. Small flocks of Sabine’s Gull were seen on the water, then
rising in flight. Some twelve Arctic Tern (16) would pass by with good
looks during our stay, but the highlight of this chum was visitation by
eight Long-tailed Jaegers (9). A group of 3 birds maneuvered off our
starboard stern dipping to feed on the water then gracefully lifting back
into flight. The group included one gorgeous adult with streaming central
tail feathers, neat black cap, buffy nape, and solid gray back and upper
wings, save for the 2 bold, white outer primary shafts. As we watched them
move off into the distance, we noticed they may have landed on or near a
log. In slow pursuit we followed to find the log occupied by a lone

As the bird rose and made its exit, we began our journey back to port, but
not without much more to explore. It was about this time the sun decided
to join our adventure which greatly improved our already awesome Cassin’s
Auklet (392) viewing experience. For whatever reason the tiny alcids
seemed to allow longer and better views than the typical fleeting glimpse
before their stone skipping flight away from the advancing boat.

In the distance we noticed a boil of pacific white-sided dolphin activity
in the water with a mixed flock of birds circling above. As we approached
the scene, we estimated 300 dolphins working a vast area, their backs and
splashes synchronized as they moved in the same direction through the
water. As entertaining as it was to watch, it was also curious to wonder
what the underwater story was. Curious enough to cause me to Google
“underwater drone camera”...

Huge flocks of Sooty Shearwater near shore and a lot of gray whale activity
in the harbor capped off this fantastic voyage expertly captained and
crewed by Phil and Chris Anderson. As mentioned, my fellow spotters were
Bill Shelmerdine and Scott Mills. Thank you local and traveling bird
enthusiasts, new seabirders and seasoned salts, you make each trip as
unique as the wildlife we seek.

Hope to sea you out there!

Cara Borre

Gig Harbor
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