[Tweeters] Westport Seabirds Trip Report Saturday May 22, 2022

Cara Borre cmborre1 at gmail.com
Tue May 24 19:48:42 PDT 2022

Our outing on Saturday, May 22, included a memorable mix of May migrants
and a hardy group of pelagic birders. The birders, who braved initially
squirrely seas, coupled with much cooler than inland temperatures on this
late-Spring day, were mainly first-timers with a few veterans. Even
veterans were reminded that dressing in layers is the key to an enjoyable
day on the ocean off of Westport. The final layer should always be
waterproof including jacket, pants, and footwear. Bring both a warm
beanie-type hat along with a suitable brimmed cap for sun. Thin gloves
will keep your hands warm without impairing your ability to operate your
binocular focus knob and/or camera controls. Packing several pairs of
gloves will allow you to swap them out if they become wet. After your
trip, assess your outfitting choices and write yourself a reminder of what
to reconsider before your next pelagic outing. Layers can always be shed
if you are too hot, but you can’t add additional layers you haven’t brought
if you’re too cold.

Keeping dry is as important as properly dressing to stay warm. As we are
traveling directly west 30 miles to the continental shelf, we are usually
motoring into a Northwesterly wind. This wind generates waves which break
on our starboard side resulting in seaspray. On days with significant
seaspray, positioning yourself on the port side of the boat for the trip
out can result in a dryer ride. Having a soft cloth in your pocket to dry
your binoculars and camera will come in handy should they become wet. If
the trip out was a bit rough and wet, the return, with the wind at our
backs, will be smoother. While disappointing, take solace in knowing if
your trip was canceled the predicted weather would have been too unpleasant
for adequate, nevermind enjoyable, bird viewing.

On to the birds…. Leaving the harbor the first migrant of note was Common
Tern (500), with large flocks forging at our departure as well as our
return. Our next migrant was our only “skua” of the day, Parasitic Jaeger
(2), which gave us a quick flyby early on, then later at the chum stop a
lackadaisical example of its piratic ways. Moving westward we encountered
other migrants including our pelagic shorebirds Red-necked (12) and Red
Phalaropes (44). Red Phalarope in breeding plumage is stunning and photos
from this trip are likely to be included in our “Best Of” video compilation
at the end of the year.

Though we may not think of them in these terms, most of the tubenoses we
encounter on our trips are migrants. Black-footed Albatross (27) breeds in
the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and Islands off Japan, Sooty Shearwater
(110) has its largest breeding colonies in New Zealand, and Pink-footed
Shearwater (17) breeds off the coast of Chile. Though scattered breeding
sites are found throughout the northern hemisphere, the Northern Fulmars
(4) we see off Washington are likely breeders from arctic Alaska and
Canada. Of the tubenoses we saw on this trip, only Fork-tailed
Storm-Petrel (210), who dazzled us with its beauty at our chum stop, breeds
in Washington on islands off our coast.

Our chum stop was, as many are, an example of how the wind and sea will
carry the scent of fish oil away from the Monte Carlo, seemingly alone in a
vast ocean, to distant tubenoses ready to forage out in search of a meal.
Storm-Petrels came in at first, their numbers slowly building as time went
on. Eventually they were joined by several albatrosses and a couple
fulmars who stayed and sampled the suet we offered them. Other migrants
observed during the chum stop included the brilliant pelagic Sabine’s Gull
(14) as well as the mega-migrant Arctic Tern (12) who logs a whopping
50,000+ miles per year going back and forth between its pole-spanning
breeding and wintering grounds.

As a group, alcids couldn’t be more different in structure from the long
distance migrant Arctic Tern. The tern, built for distance and speed, is
lightweight with long wings capable of buoyant, almost effortless flight.
Alcids by contrast, don’t spend a great deal of time in flight as their
body structure requires constant flapping. Though some species travel far
from their breeding grounds, they do so on the water rather than through
air. This movement is not typically thought of as true migration but more
of a “post-breeding dispersal”. Our alcid list included Common Murre (28),
Pigeon Guillemot (6), Ancient Murrelet (5), Rhinoceros Auklet (145),
Cassin’s Auklet (167) and Tufted Puffin (3). Of this list, all are known
to breed in Washington except Ancient Murrelet who travels to the Aleutian
Islands, as well as British Columbia and Asia to breed.

Migration remained the theme as we added a few wayward land birds to our
list including a couple Wilson’s Warblers, an Olive-sided Flycatcher, a
Western Wood-Pewee, and a couple of unidentified souls, all likely taking
their last flights.

Humpback Whales (7) are also migrants and well known to travel from their
tropical breeding grounds to high northern latitudes to feed. We saw five
whales surfacing and fluking close to the boat and we lingered to watch
them for a while. Later a few of us on the bow witnessed a jaw dropping
double breach at the horizon. Though way too far away to feel the splash,
the sheer volume of water that explodes skyward from this behavior is
simply incredible.

This migration themed voyage was Captained by Phil Anderson. Leaders were
Bill Tweit, Scott Mills, and me. Thanks to our great group of participants
and please post any pictures you'd like to share on our eBird lists.

Hope to sea you out there!

Cara Borre

Gig Harbor
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