May 21, 2000

9 hour trip out 35 miles from Newport, Oregon, to Chicken Ranch and Perpetua Bank

This last trip of spring was the best spring trip ever! In fact, few fall trips would compare: 65 WHITE-FACED IBIS over Yaquina Bay, about 240 BLACK-FOOTED ALBATROSS (a new record high number for our trips!), 7 LAYSAN ALBATROSS (in May?!!!), thousands and thousands of breeding plumage RED PHALAROPES, a couple of rare spring LONG-TAILED JAEGERS, an OCEAN SUNFISH about 8 feet from fin-tip to fin-tip, over 100 FORK-TAILED STORM-PETRELS, lots of other birds, and perfect sea conditions!

This Perpetua Bank trip is 9 hours in duration. The general route travels out 20 miles to the "Chicken Ranch" where we stop and chum an hour. Then the trip heads SW another 20 miles off Perpetua Bank to one of Oregon's highest albatross concentrations, where we stop and chum again. This is a great route. I can't wait to try it again this fall!

We started from Yaquina Bay at 8 AM with 19 CALIFORNIA SEA LIONS arguing on the docks. Skies were clear and sunny. No wind. We hadn't made it to the end of the jetties yet, when I noticed a large flock of birds heading up from the south. I called out "some kind of small goose," but then noticed feet trailing behind, so I thought they must be loons, then I saw the long down-curved bill and realized they were WHITE-FACED IBIS! There are few records for the north coast, and no flocks of that size.

We continued out about 20 miles adding a few birds, especially breeding plumage RED PHALAROPES and SOOTY SHEARWATERS. We stopped just short of a bank of fog and chummed in a half dozen BLACK-FOOTED ALBATROSS, some COMMON TERNS, an obliging PARASITIC JAEGER, and 2 strikingly beautiful LONG-TAILED JAEGERS--one of only a handful of spring records.

The fog bank overtook us, but wasn't too bad, so we headed SW. At about 10 miles we came across numerous BLACK-FOOTED ALBATROSS sitting on the water. Floating dead fish and jellyfish revealed that a dragger had raised its nets here not long before. We started chumming, and eventually counted over 90 BLACK-FOOTED ALBATROSS coming to our chum. In the mean time we had 3 LAYSAN ALBATROSS too! I don't know what's going on with these birds. Prior to this spring this was a very rare winter bird. Now we've had them on 5 of our last 8 trips starting last October. We're rewriting everything we "know" about this species. It shows what can be learned on pelagic trips at other times of year besides August and September.

We continued SW another 10 miles until we were off Perpetua Bank. The fog lifted a bit and a breeze came up, enabling seabirds to fly more easily. We were surrounded by about a half dozen draggers and a large processing ship hailing out of Seattle. In the wake of the processing ship was another hundred BLACK-FOOTED ALBATROSS and at least 3 more LAYSAN ALBATROSS! A NORTHERN FUR SEAL surfaced near the boat and gave us a good looking over before submerging. The water was covered with fish scraps. It was like sailing in a giant pot of Bouillabaisse! Needless to say, our chum was not needed nor did it provide any interest. So we just trolled about a half mile behind the processing ship and observed the albatrosses sitting in its wake! We encountered a tight group of albatrosses sitting on the water. When we trolled over, a huge MOLA MOLA (OCEAN SUNFISH) was on the surface eating jellyfish. It was 8 feet from dorsal fin to ventral fin, laying on its side, waving its pectoral fin out in the air. The skipper said he's seen some 12 feet across!

We encountered another couple of LAYSAN ALBATROSSES on the way back to port, but it wasn't certain we hadn't seen them before. RED PHALAROPES in breeding plumage were evenly distributed over the sea. At places they looked like gnats over a pond. At points the boat flushed over 2 birds per second for an hour or more. This was only a swath a couple of hundred feet wide. Single birds and flocks were everywhere to the horizon! We could have easily seen 7,000 birds, but we'll stick with half that number as our official count. There could have been hundreds of thousands of phalaropes off the Lincoln county coast this day! They were abundant from about 15 miles to at least 35 miles offshore (our farthest point). There were numerous RHINOCEROS AUKLETS offshore. Either there are a lot of non-breeders, or there are far more breeding birds than we know about on shore.

Smooth seas gave us extra time, so we came back to shore at Waldport and stayed about a half mile off the beach all the way back to Newport (10 miles). Seas were a bit rippled by nearshore fog and wind, but we counted an even 50 MARBLED MURRELETS flushed by the boat or diving at its approach. No doubt even more were a bit closer to shore where we could not approach, or see. We returned to port before 5 PM, well satisfied.

I'd like to thank Tim Shelmerdine, Tom Snetsinger, and Phil Pickering for joining me and helping the passengers see and identify the birds. Tim Shelmerdine kept the running total of birds, reproduced below.

Greg Gillson

Ocean list  
Pacific Loon* 6
Red-throated Loon* 1
Black-footed Albatross 240
Sooty Shearwater 250
Pink-footed Shearwater 1
Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel 110
Brandt's Cormorant* 47
Pelagic Cormorant* 5
Brown Pelican* 1
Surf Scoter* 80
White-winged Scoter* 2
Black Oystercatcher* 3
Red Phalarope 3500
Red-necked Phalarope 55
Parasitic Jaeger 5
Long-tailed Jaeger 3
Western Gull 14
Sabine's Gull 13
Common Tern 3
Arctic Tern 2
Common Murre* 250
Pigeon Guillemot* 20
Cassin's Auklet 4
Marbled Murrelet* 50
Rhinoceros Auklet 29
Other marine species  
Harbor Porpoise* 2
Northern Fur Seal 1
Ocean Sunfish 3
Blue Shark 2

* = Most (or all) individuals seen within 3 miles of shore.

Additional in the harbor:  
Common Loon 1
Western Grebe 2
Brandt's Cormorant 4
Pelagic Cormorant 7
Surf Scoter 7
Western Gull 37
Pigeon Guillemot 20
Rock Dove
American Crow
California Sea Lion 19