[Tweeters] Westport Seabirds Trip Report September 25, 2021

Cara Borre cmborre1 at gmail.com
Thu Sep 30 12:45:27 PDT 2021

An awe inspiring spectacle awaited us Saturday, September 25 with our
passage into the Pacific beyond Westport. The weather and sea conditions
were pleasant, no rain, only a bit of spray if on the windward side of the
boat. If you wear your waterproof pants and boots, and move to the leeward
side for protection, spray is never a problem.

Captain Phil Anderson, First Mate Chris Anderson, Spotters Bruce LaBar,
Ryan Merrill and I, were joined by a nice mix of local veteran seabirders,
first-timers, out of towners, and Tiffany Kersten, an enthusiastic birder
from the Rio Grande area of Texas who is doing a lower 48 Big Year.
Tiffany was looking to add Short-tailed Shearwater, Flesh-footed
Shearwater, and “any exciting albatross” (sorry Black-footed, that means
Laysan or Short-tailed) to her year list which stood at 694. Learn more
about Tiffany’s Big Year here: https://tiffanykersten.blogspot.com/

Our journey out to a sizable fleet of shrimp boats was fairly uneventful.
We passed the expected Sooty Shearwater (probably with Short-tailed
Shearwaters)/Common Murre zone and added Pink-footed Shearwater (1848 - day
totals in parentheses). We encountered the continuing large numbers of
Short-tailed Shearwater (1582) as we reached the boats.

Black-footed Albatross (10) were few and far between, so the hope of an
“exciting albatross” soon faded. An abundance of Buller’s Shearwater
(211), always a beautiful bird to see in flight with it’s “M” patterned,
multicolored back, helped us forget the absence of albatross.

The boats were attended by large numbers of birds, many of which were
juvenile California Gulls, but plenty of tubenoses as well. In a large
flock, on the water, we discovered our first Flesh-footed Shearwater (2)
sitting cooperatively in the front of the pack with it’s pink bill acting
as a homing beacon to aid our instructions on finding the bird. We had
several good looks at Northern Fulmar (42), though we were left longing for
Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel with only two brief sightings seen by a few of

With the large flocks surrounding the boats, it was surprising not to find
more jaegers, but South Polar Skua (11) was seen frequently throughout the
day. We also had a passing Parasitic Jaeger at the bow and a report of
Pomarine Jaeger from the stern during the day. A couple of Arctic Terns
were also seen passing in front of us. Sometimes depending on where you
are on the boat, and how quickly the bird is passing by, along with our
ability to be heard over the engine, you may miss birds. Though
disappointing, this is the nature of a pelagic, and keeps us coming back as
no two trips are alike.

We had excellent looks at large numbers of Sabine’s Gulls (94) and Bruce
added an early Black-legged Kittiwake to everyone’s year list. We were
quick to ensure Tiffany got on the bird before it lifted from the water not
to be seen again. Her lower 48 Big Year total rose to 697 during our trip.
Cassin’s Auklet (140) and Rhinoceros Auklet (57) were seen in decent
numbers, though I’m always on the hunt for Scripps’s or Guadalupe Murrelet
this time of year - no luck.

With that summary of bird sightings, let me move to the climax for the day,
perhaps the “greatest mammal show ever" per the Andersons (who have seen a
lot of really great mammal shows!). It started with distant blows, a lot
of them, some quite high. As we headed in their direction, a humpback
breached. If you’ve never seen a humpback breach in person, this
possibility alone is a reason to join us on these trips. You will be
jaw-dropped, spellbound when this 45 foot (about the size of the Monte
Carlo), 30 ton animal thrusts itself vertically into the air and crashes
back to the surface creating a mammoth displacement of water. The whole
event is only a few seconds long, so if you’re not looking in the right
direction you only hear the “wows” and other exclamations and see the large
circle of churning water slowly returning to normal. Luckily either this
individual was feeling very frisky or it inspired a nearby neighbor, and
there was soon another breach, then I believe a third as I fumbled for my
camera (sorry no video).

As we slowly approached we could see large numbers of humpback whales (25)
surfacing, blowing, and showing partial flukes at times. We were close and
could see them very well, so well that we noted some were clearly not
humpbacks. As we continued studying them, we could see the blowholes with
a ridge along the front, then a long sleek back, before finally a falcate
dorsal fin. We eventually reached the conclusion we were also in the
company of several fin whales (8). These enormous whales, at 70-80 feet
(almost 2 Monte Carlos) and 80 tons, are second in size only to blue
whales. For at least an hour we were fully engaged in this spectacle,
surrounded by some of the largest mammals on the planet.

As if the whales were not enough entertainment, they were joined by pacific
white-sided dolphins (50). We got excellent views of the dolphins as they
approached the boat and passed underwater beneath us. They seemed
particularly interested in following, or I should say staying ahead of the
fin whales. I’m sure they were enjoying food scraps along the way.
Putting in a brief appearance with 4 sleek backs surfacing together close
to the boat, we added northern right-whale dolphin (8) to our list.

As difficult as it was to pull ourselves away from “the greatest mammal
show ever", we departed and swung by the boats again. We stopped and threw
out some herring for the birds. The Short-tailed Shearwater appreciated
our offerings and photo opportunities were taken. It’s a delight to see
these birds diving and swimming underwater to retrieve the fish, then
popping up and quickly stealing away with the spoils. On our return we
encountered northern fur seals and stopped to admire a closeby pair. We
also had a monster of an ocean sunfish which always forces a full stop to
marvel at and photograph. Truly another amazing day at sea!

Hope to sea you out there on one of the few remaining trips of the year or
in 2022!

Cara Borre

Gig Harbor
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