Pelagic trip report:
Tuesday, May 20, 2003
5-hours from Newport Oregon aboard Surfrider of Seagull Charters. Yaquina Bay, along shore north 5 miles to Yaquina Head then offshore 25 miles where several commercial trawlers were bringing in nets of fish to the processing ship "Excellence" registered at Anchorage, Alaska.
Trip guides: Greg Gillson, Phil Pickering, Tom Snetsinger.
Seas varied from flat to 3 foot swells. Wind waves none to less than 6 inches. Skies thin overcast. Water temperature 55 F, air temperature 50-60 F. Winds N to NE 5-12 knots.
An amazingly perfect day at sea during the peak of spring seabird migration. While idling along shore observing MARBLED MURRELETS, a rare MANX SHEARWATER flew by the boat at close range. By my count there are about 25 other Oregon records of Manx Shearwaters, plus another 18 Manx/Black-vented sightings, most of which were thought more likely to be Manx. There is finally a record of Manx Shearwater accepted by the Oregon Bird Records Committee (12 September 2000) with several more under review, including the ones we photographed in March this year. This species has increased quickly! I wouldn't call them regular yet, but it should be looked for along the immediate coastline primarily between April and July, though records exist for nearly every month except mid-winter.
About 18 miles off shore we spotted our first BLACK-FOOTED ALBATROSS flying off about 1/2 mile. While we watched a whale spouted a couple of times behind the albatross and the tall triangle back of HUMPBACK WHALE was visible to many passengers, though at considerable distance. We spotted a commercial processing ship on the horizon and eventually pulled up behind the "Excellence" which was having 4 other trawlers filling nets for it. Among the thousand dark SOOTY SHEARWATERS and 300 dark BLACK-FOOTED ALBATROSSES was one white LAYSAN ALBATROSS, rare but regular from late October through May.
There weren't many gulls or jaegers, so the bulky SOUTH POLAR SKUA was pretty obvious (at least to the trained eye) when it flew by. It didn't approach closely, but was spotted twice harassing the shearwaters. The large white wing patches on upper and under wing were obvious, and it showed a pale nape and back of an "intermediate phase" adult. Most skuas are found in September and October, with previous records from June-December (earliest June 1), with one April record (See the new Birds of Oregon). This was the first May record for Oregon.
A close fly-by LONG-TAILED JAEGER completed the jaeger sweep. While a few Long-taileds can be found in late April, we've done better finding them in mid to late May. Spring adult jaegers are so obvious compared to all the confusing plumages of fall.
This 5-hour trip was very compact and bird-intensive throughout. We weren't really ready to leave the seabird swarm among the fishing boats but our time was getting away from us, so we raced for port. While motoring by and scanning shearwater flocks on the water looking for more Manx or other rarities the large dorsal fin of the diminutive MINKE WHALE (say it "MING-kee") surfaced once to the delight of the handful who happened to be looking at just the right place at just the right time. This was about 4 miles off Newport where we've spotted these tiny 15 foot whales in the past (the Risso's Dolphins we sometimes see are nearly as large).
Calm seas, hazy sun, enough breeze for birds to fly but not enough to rough the water's surface, fishing boats attracting thousands of birds, and a few state and seasonal rarities on a shorter 5-hour trip--this was a fantastic pelagic trip by any measure.
Red-throated Loon 12 Pacific Loon 10 Western Grebe 2 Black-footed Albatross 306 LAYSAN ALBATROSS 1 Northern Fulmar 23 Pink-footed Shearwater 157 Sooty Shearwater 2794 MANX SHEARWATER 1 Brandt's Cormorant 41 Double-crested Cormorant 12 Pelagic Cormorant 61 Canada Goose 90 Greater Scaup 5 Surf Scoter 125 White-winged Scoter 4 Red-necked Phalarope 98 Bonaparte's Gull 3 California Gull 1 Herring Gull 4 Glaucous-winged Gull 3 Western Gull 68 Sabine's Gull 4 Arctic Tern 5 SOUTH POLAR SKUA 1 Pomarine Jaeger 1 Parasitic Jaeger 2 LONG-TAILED JAEGER 1 Common Murre 499 Pigeon Guillemot 98 Marbled Murrelet 9 Cassin's Auklet 16 Rhinoceros Auklet 27 TUFTED PUFFIN 1 Steller's Sea Lion 1 California Sea Lion 23 HUMPBACK WHALE 1 MINKE WHALE 1 Dall's Porpoise 11 By-the-wind Sailors (jellyfish) innumerable (~3 per square meter for miles in every direction)