Pelagic trip report:
Sunday, May 21, 2006

5 hours
From Charleston, Oregon offshore 20 nautical miles, meeting up with a hake fishing fleet including the processor ships Arctic Storm and Arctic Fjord and about 7 local trawlers.

Boat: Betty Kay
Captain Kathi Johnson

The Bird Guide, Inc.

Guides: Greg Gillson and Tim Shelmerdine

Black-footed Albatross with the hake processor "Arctic Fjord" in the background. Photo by Greg Gillson

The seas were the only thing that were calm on this trip. The birds were wild and the birders ecstatic!

FIVE HUNDRED BLACK-FOOTED ALBATROSSES highlighted the day, accompanying the hake fishing fleet, including "Arctic Storm" and "Arctic Fjord" processors and about 7 local support trawlers.

But I'm getting ahead of myself...

Betty Kay. Photo by Greg Gillson

This trip was set up as an activity in conjunction with the Oregon Field Ornithologists annual meeting this weekend. The day started calm with mostly cloudy skies. The eleven birders boarded about 7:00 a.m. and got started right away.

David Smith and Brooke Clibbon scan the north side of the Coos Bay harbor entrance. Photo by Greg Gillson

Meanwhile, Tim Rodenkirk and other bundled seabirders check out the south side of the channel. Photo by Greg Gillson

Nearshore birds including Rhinoceros Auklets, Common Murres, and Sooty Shearwaters soon gave way to some empty seas. But the sparse birds didn't last long. We soon spotted the fishing fleet on the horizon.

Arctic Fjord. Photo by Greg Gillson

There were albatrosses from horizon to horizon...

Seabird swarm. Photo by Greg Gillson

Birding was dizzying. No matter where one looked, someone was calling out a different bird in another direction: "A flock of Sabine's Gulls off in the distance." "Long-tailed Jaeger behind the stern!" "Parasitic Jaeger over the bow!" The flock around our boat held at least 300 albatrosses. Other boats had their own contingents. Our best guess was that 400 was too few; 600 seemed possible. We split the difference and called the number 500. There were about 2000 Sooty Shearwaters feeding and screaming. A thousand gulls shrieked, most Western Gulls, about 20% California Gulls. It was hard to search among the milling birds for anything different.

Black-footed Albatross. Photo by Greg Gillson

Interestingly, the albatrosses greedily switched from fish scraps from the processing ships to our beef fat chum.

Black-footed Albatrosses at 15 feet with point-and-shoot digital camera. Photo by Greg Gillson

Most of the Black-footed Albatrosses were young birds with all-dark rumps and undertail coverts.

Soon after heading back to port we spotted a Laysan Albatross coming up our stern. It circled around once allowing everyone good, but brief, views. A life bird for several of the participants!

Calm seas were the order of the day. Photo by Greg Gillson

Species list 

Laysan Albatross 1
Black-footed Albatross 500
Northern Fulmar 15
Pink-footed Shearwater 30
Sooty Shearwater 2000
Double-crested Cormorant 10
Brandt's Cormorant 65
Pelagic Cormorant 20
Red-necked Phalarope 3
Parasitic Jaeger 5
Long-tailed Jaeger 3
California Gull 200
Western Gull 800
Glaucous-winged Gull 5
Sabine's Gull 75
Arctic Tern 1
Common Murre 350
Pigeon Guillemot 25
Rhinoceros Auklet 35

California Sea Lion 15
Harbor Seal 10

Captain Kathi saying good-bye to the birders. Photo by Greg Gillson