[Tweeters] September 15 Westport Seabirds pelagic trip report

Bill Tweit bill.tweit at gmail.com
Fri Sep 16 17:20:15 PDT 2022

Great birds, great marine mammals and smooth waters added up to a highly
memorable Westport Seabirds pelagic trip onboard the Monte Carlo on
September 15. Most of the participants were on a Wildside Nature Tours, led
by Alex Lameroux and Chris Brown, and a few other birders joined. Numbers
in parentheses are the totals for the day.

Birds were generally numerous all day, beginning with large strings of
Common Murres (1433) a few miles offshore, mostly still flightless adult
males and chicks drifting north after the young had fledged from their
Oregon colonies. Two Common Terns (5) were being harassed by a Parasitic
Jaeger (32), giving us a preview of the abundance of jaegers for the day.
We also saw the first of many Humpback Whales, (28) along with a Gray Whale
(1), while we were still in the nearshore area. After the trip, we learned
that one of the Humpback Whales was CRC-19155, of the Hawaiian breeding
population. Many groups of Red-necked Phalaropes (134) flew past our bow
heading south. We saw migrant waterfowl in flocks all day, mostly Northern
Pintail (172).

Further offshore, as we neared the 50 fathom line (300’ depth), the first
large groups of Sooty Shearwaters (5180) appeared and Sabine’s Gulls (245)
began to be seen frequently. They were accompanied by numerous Parasitic
Jaegers and a few Pomarines (16), by the end of the day we had recorded
near record numbers of Parasitics. In this area, as we watched a dark bird
harassing a Sabine’s Gull, we realized that this dark bird was not another
jaeger, but instead was a Peregrine (2) trying to capture a Sabine’s Gull.
The pursuit, with amazing dives and twisting evasions, moved closer to us
as we watched, and eventually was directly over us for a few moments before
moving off to an unknown end since we lost track of them. Pink-footed
Shearwater (331) numbers began to increase at this point, and the first
Short-tailed Shearwaters (607) were detected. We were headed for the area
where the shrimp trawlers were fishing, and as we neared them three South
Polar Skuas (13) made an appearance providing good views of both light- and
dark-bodied birds. Although the trawlers were not attracting many birds, we
enjoyed the numbers of birds in the area. The first Black-footed Albatross
(8) and Northern Fulmars (24) were also found in this area, just south of
Grays Canyon. Single Buller’s Shearwater (11) and Arctic Tern (3) appeared
briefly. The numbers of marine mammals in the area kept us scanning the
horizons for telltale splashes and blows. Four species of cetaceans were in
this one area: 1 Humpback Whale, 7 Dall’s Porpoise (38), 20 Pacific
White-sided Dolphins (982), and a large but distant group of about 150
Northern Right-Whale Dolphins sped past us (170). As we turned to catch up
with them, a single alcid on the water caught our eye, an immature HORNED
PUFFIN. A very cooperative bird, it sat for us as we circled it, with
cameras frantically clicking. Unfortunately, stopping for the puffins meant
we lost track of the dolphins.

Since we were already south of Grays Canyon at this point, we headed
southwest into deeper water, going from 400’ depth to almost 2000’ in just
a few miles, to see if we could catch up with the speedy dolphin gang, no
luck on that score. Small groups of flying Cassin’s Auklets (96) began to
appear over the deep waters of the canyon, and one pair on the water
afforded good views, which the Red Phalarope (1) that flew past did not.
Once we were well over the deep waters south of the canyon, we stopped to
chum but the little bit of wind that we noted when we stopped quickly
dissipated, so the effectiveness of the chum was low as success depends on
a breeze to carry the scent. It did attract a Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel (20)
and a couple of albatross circled us, attracted either by the chum or the
crowd of birders. Even still, we enjoyed watching the passing birds as we
drifted silently without the boat engines running. A nearby Northern Fur
Seal (2) seemed relatively undisturbed by our presence. Our attention was
drawn to a Parasitic Jaeger engaged in aerial acrobatics, when we realized
it was after a small passerine, likely the American Pipit we had heard
overhead just a few minutes earlier. Soon up to three Parasitics were
chasing the poor passerine, and an Arctic Tern began chasing one of the
jaegers! A skua flew by, cast a casual eye at the commotion, and kept
going. We don’t know how it ended, but it went on for long enough that it
can’t have been a positive outcome for the passerine. Heading back east, as
we neared the Continental Shelf, we encountered a massive herd of 800
Pacific White-sided Dolphin and 20 more Northern Right Whale Dolphins. Both
dolphins came in to ride our bow wave for a few minutes, while others
performed somersaults and other acrobatics nearby.

Once we returned to waters over the shelf, we continued to see smaller
groups of dolphins as we headed first for a few more shrimpers that were
fishing east of the end of Grays Canyon. Again, we found them relatively
devoid of birds but large numbers of shearwaters and Sabine’s Gulls were
feeding on bait just inshore of the trawlers, with more dolphins and a
couple of lunge-feeding Humpback Whales. A few more Buller’s Shearwaters
were with these flocks, providing better looks than in the morning, and we
found one area that held large numbers of Short-tailed Shearwaters with
great comparisons with Sooty. Amidst all of this abundance, one area held
skua, numerous Parasitics, a few Pomarines and one adult Long-tailed (1),
giving us the “jaeger slam” in quick succession. This was also the area
that held the largest numbers of Rhinocerous Auklets (63) and California
Gulls (563), which we had been seeing in small numbers throughout the trip.
Three Herring Gulls (3) here were our first of the fall, aside from a lone
bird in August.

The excitement didn’t drop off as we headed back to the harbor. First, a
group of 9 Pomarine Jaegers on the water marked the end of the great jaeger
show we had been enjoying all day. About a half hour out, we came to an
abrupt halt to watch a pod of approx. 8 Orca, apparently transients (Bigg’s
Killer Whales) of the T-38 group (the matriarch is T-38, born in 1980), as
they surfaced and lob-tailed. Reluctantly leaving them, we spotted the last
skua of the day much closer to shore than is normal for this species. Then,
we were entertained for a few moments by a Savannah Sparrow that came
aboard and hitched a ride back to shore. The excitement wasn’t over though,
as we neared the end of the Westport jetty, we checked the gulls perched on
a log floating less than a mile off the jetties, and were stunned to see a
BROWN BOOBY sitting among them. More pandemonium as we circled the log,
while the booby sat and posed for pictures.

Finally, back into Grays Harbor, a couple of Harbor Porpoise (2) made it a
seven cetacean species day! The last excitement of the day came after we
tied up but before we disembarked, as a Peregrine cruised in low and fast,
flushing all of the Marbled Godwits (800), which helped us ascertain that
the godwit flock held a Willet, but no Bar-tailed. Our second Peregrine of
the day, not a typical pelagic trip! This was a trip that most of us won’t
forget anytime soon. As usual, we had the privilege of the superb
skippering by Phil Anderson, and his wife Chris as a great first mate.
Spotters for the trip were Scott Mills and Bill Tweit, with credit to many
of the sharp-eyed birders on board, especially Alex Lameroux, Chris Brown,
Bob Archer and Eric Heisey.

Bill Tweit
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