[Tweeters] 08062022 Westport Seabirds Trip Report

bill shelmerdine georn1 at hotmail.com
Thu Aug 11 14:44:54 PDT 2022

Wow, what a trip. Great weather and an impressive bird and mammal show. It would be hard to do the trip justice and still keep this report reasonably short. We had sunny weather all day, starting off with a great sunrise as we left the harbor and great views of Olympic Mountains to the north and Mount Rainier to the east.
After checking wind & swell direction, and checking to see where fishing boats were working, skipper Phil Anderson opted for a southerly route to Pacific County and Willipa Canyon. This was the area where the Hake fleet was fishing while shrimpers were working the waters north of Grays Canyon.
This route turned out to be a great choice! The trip out was productive with the regular streams of Sooty Shearwater and Common Murres plentiful on the inner shelf. Large flocks of Phalarope (hundreds) were gathered on the water in many locations. For the second week in a row, Red Phalarope significantly outnumbered Red-Necked, most trips it’s the other way around. It was here where our first Cassin’s Auklet was sighted feeding within a large Phalarope flock.

When we approached the deeper shelf towards Willipa Canyon, we could see this was going to be a good day. For those counting and recording numbers it would be a challenge. Seeing the Hake Fleet fishing in the distance we began to encounter great number of birds and a nice mix of species. Scanning in every direction, were large groups of California Gulls and Shearwaters, and many Fork-tailed Storm Petrels. Splashes in the distance indicated several schools/ pods of dolphins working the area. There was lot’s of food in the water and the feeding activity was impressive. It was here were we had our first really good looks at Pink-footed Shearwaters, Cassin’s Auklet, and Fork-tailed Storm Petrels, many young of the year in pristine juvenile plumage.

Then there was all of the activity around the Hake boats. As is often the case this had the effect of concentrating a large number of species dominated by California Gulls and Sooty Shearwaters. It was here that we picked up our first Black-footed Albatross of the day. Northern Fulmar were plentiful and our first of Short-tailed Shearwaters of the day were seen here at close range, often coming right up to the boat. With all the activity there must be Jaegers/Skua. They did not disappoint us. We were treated to great looks and both adult and Sub-adult Long-tailed and Pomarine Jaegers; South Polar Skua, and an acrobatic Parasitic Jaeger giving chase to gulls. Within a span of 15 or 20 minutes we had the coveted Skua Slam with all members of the North Pacific Jaeger/ Skua clan working the area.

It was difficult to leave all this action, but deeper waters and the potential for a few different species called. The trip to Willipa Canyon and Deep Chum stop off the edge of the shelf was productive. Often with so much activity at the boats, this area can be fairly devoid of birds having all been drawn to the fishing activity. Not so today. We added to our numbers and picked up a few new species for the day. An Arctic Tern came in close, but briefly and was seen well only by those on the bow. Our first Leach’s Storm-Petrel appeared and then disappeared in the distance (to be seen well later at the chum stop). The big surprise was a quick flyby Alcid showing the characteristics of an alternate plumage Parakeet Auklet. Sadly, the bird was seen by only a couple of lucky individuals on the bow and was not photographed. An exceptional sighting for the season. It is interesting to note that winter and spring trips recorded numbers of this species this year, while a breeding plumage individual has been summering along the San Fransisco Coastline (for the second year in a row).
As we approached our deep chum stop, there were few if any birds in sight. There was however, a nice light breeze, good conditions for chumming. Starting out quiet, after a time activity built to a great stop. Really good looks at Black-footed Albatross on the water close; Sabines Gull and a sub-adult Long-tailed Jaeger made several close passes around the boat while a couple of Leach’s and fork-tailed Storm-Petrel worked the chum slick coming in close at times. Our first Buller’s Shearwater of the year was picked out by Spotter Cara Borre, a striking bird making a single close pass and moving on. 11 species visited the slick or passed through with great looks and many photo opportunities for many. Blue Shark and Mola Mola also made appearances with one Mola Mola leaping clear of the water at one point, a feat that seems most improbable for this curious looking species.

The return trip continued with plenty of action. Dolphins and Tufted Puffin were highlights. The outer shelf held large numbers of Pacific White-sided, with some very accommodating bow-riders. Shortly they were joined by Northern Right-Whale Dolphins. Never expected and always appreciated; at least five individuals chose to ride the bow wake and stay close to the boat for quite some time. Always a treat, they were seen well by all on board. As we departed the area numbers dropped off but we still had scattered numbers throughout the trip home, there was always something to look at, including probably our best looks at Humpback Whale. A bit more of just about everything and our first of three Tufted Puffin for the day.
Inshore, the area around harbor entrance and the south jetty were nothing short of remarkable (and very difficult to count accurately as the numbers and species mix had us trying to look in every direction at once). I’m sure we undercounted here. Very large numbers of Common Murre and Rhinoceros Auklets were impressive, among them a breeding plumage Tufted Puffin, unusual this close to shore and a third for the trip, a great total for the day.
All and all a great trip with a great group of folks. About half of the participants were Washingtonians joined by others from Oregon, New Mexico, Texas and Florida. Spotters for the trip were Bill Tweit, Bill Shelmerdine, and Cara Borre. Boat Crew included Skipper Phil Anderson and Ken Luce. Trip totals and final numbers will be posted to ebird and the Westport Seabirds webpage.
Bill Shelmerdine
Westport Seabirds

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