[Tweeters] Westport Seabirds Trip Report February 13, 2022
cmborre1 at gmail.com
Thu Feb 17 09:39:37 PST 2022
Westport Seabirds maiden voyage of 2022 was an alcid extravaganza despite
some last minute shuffling to get the trip off. Our planned Saturday
departure was postponed to Sunday due to predicted better wind and sea
conditions. We enjoyed no rain and maybe too much bright sunshine at
times. Bright sunshine can often make pelagic birding challenging as
plumage colors are unreliable as reflection and eye strain become factors.
After our chum stop, a fog bank rolled in briefly, lifting to a gentler
overcast sky for the rest of the day. On board was a great group to usher
in the start of our season, including several pelagic veterans.
These winter trips are often desirable for those seeking to add certain
rare species to their life or state lists such as Laysan or Short-tailed
Albatross, Manx Shearwater, and Parakeet Auklet to name a few. While
offering greater chances for certain coveted species, winter trips are not
known for large overall bird numbers or high species diversity. As our
season progresses, so does the fishing/shrimping season. These vessels
concentrate and attract birds and we see jaw dropping overall bird numbers
at times. Just as we know from terrestrial birding, Spring and Fall add
the excitement of waves of migratory birds resulting in increased species
Though we were unable to find or chum-in any albatross species, this day
will long be remembered by what we were able to find, an astounding number
of alcids, eight species for the day!
Our first alcid of the day was shortly after our departure at 6:30am with a
pair of Marbled Murrelets seen quickly flying away from us (this will be a
common theme I’m afraid) while still in the harbor. As we know this is a
near shore species. A small alcid with black upperparts and white
underparts in winter can really be nothing else. A word of note which we
often cover on these trips, an alcid is quickly distinguished from other
pelagic, or in this case near-shore species, by their constant wing
flapping in flight. By virtue of their relative weight and wing area (wing
loading), they are incapable of gliding as the shearwaters and other
pelagic species so aptly do. While high wing loading does require constant
wing flapping for an alcid to stay aloft, this relationship also results in
an enhanced ability for alcids to “fly” underwater as they use their wings,
not their feet for aquatic propulsion.
Our next couple of alcid species, Common Murre (695 - parentheses numbers
are totals for the day) and Rhinoceros Auklet (55) are expected and seen on
most of our trips. It was nice to see examples of winter and breeding
plumage for comparison in the various murres we encountered. Rhinoceros
Auklet is also attaining breeding plumage at this time of year. Captain
Phil stopped for a photo opp of a particularly cooperative bird with fresh
plumes and horn for all to admire.
Ancient Murrelet (26) is a common winter alcid in Washington and can be
found in small groups even from shore in certain areas. We do get to see
these birds at rest on the water at times, but on this trip they were
always in flight, but not always flying directly away from us. The gray
back, and light underwing helped us clinch the ID. We were thankful on
this trip to have several photographers with quick reflexes on board to
confirm the ID of the various small alcid species constantly in motion.
Their LED screens showed the characteristic mostly black head and short
bill with yellow tip.
Cassin’s Auklet (17), another common alcid on most of our trips, was scarce
on this day. Though we typically see them bouncing away from the advancing
boat, usually we find one or two at rest that we can approach for better
viewing; not on this trip.
Parakeet Auklet (35), one of those winter species that many in Washington
are looking to add to their state list, was seen in good numbers, but
always flying directly away from the boat. Size can be helpful to
distinguish this bird, somewhere between Cassin’s and Rhinoceros Auklet.
The contrast of the dark back with extensively white underparts and dark
underwings help differentiate it from Cassin’s. Though Cassin’s gray back
can contrast remarkably with it’s lighter belly in bright sunshine, its
underwings do show a light panel not found in Parakeet or Rhinoceros
Auklet. Rhinos were seen well in profile and the contrast between the dark
upperparts, extending onto the chest, and lighter underparts was not as
dramatic as in Parakeet Auklet. The Rhinoceros Auklet's anvil shaped head
and short, stout neck also helped us avoid confusion with Parakeet Auklet.
Though never seen in profile, the rocking manner of flight in Parakeet
Auklet allowed a glimpse of a relatively (compared to Rhino) long neck.
Our alcid tally continued with a Tufted Puffin in winter plumage winging
past the bow as they often do, too fast to get everyone on it. The most
remarkable alcid of the day, seen by very few, was a Horned Puffin spotted
and photographed by Carter Strope. Carter describes seeing a “strange
murre” flying in line with several Common Murre. When examining his
picture, we noted orange feet and an orange bill attached to the face of a
Alcids aside, we saw only three tubenoses, Northern Fulmar (129),
Short-tailed Shearwater (9) and a fleeting glimpse of Manx Shearwater (1).
Black-legged Kittiwake (96), another winter visitor, was seen often and
The highlight of our mammal list included 3 Fin Whale and a rather rare
behavior from a Gray Whale. This nearshore species was seen within Grays
Harbor. It blew a few times and eventually surfaced. I took a spot on the
starboard side preparing for shorebird scanning of the jetty. Spotter
Gene Revelas remained at the stern and casually proclaimed to those still
looking in the whale’s direction, “gray whales never breach”. On que, this
gray whale breached! I heard the “oohs and wows” and turned to see the
splash. Gene saw his first Gray Whale breach and has a great new story to
accompany future sightings. Gene and I were joined by leader Scott Mills,
Monte Carlo Captain Phil Anderson and First Mate Chris Anderson.
Check out our season schedule at www.westportseabirds.com
Hope to sea you out there!
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