July 31, 2004

8 hours out of Ilwaco, Washington, out 27 miles, visiting Oregon and Washington waters.

Our trip departed from Ilwaco, Washington, and traveled a half mile down the Ilwaco Channel to the Columbia River mouth. Trip guides Greg Gillson and Tim Shelmerdine pointed out a couple of PURPLE MARTINS and OSPREY over the marina. The mouth of the Columbia River was filled with BROWN PELICANS, DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANTS, CASPIAN TERNS, and COMMON MURRES, in dizzying numbers.

Once we crossed the bow we started picking up a couple of RHINOCEROS AUKLETS and SOOTY SHEARWATERS. We were in the Columbia River freshwater plume for about 12 miles. The water became rougher, the overcast started a light drizzle, and the wind picked up. Suddenly we had flat water, calm, and the air warmed noticeably and smelled salty. We had reached an edge of the Columbia River plume and entered pure oceanic waters. Numerous Shearwaters, both SOOTY and the first good numbers of PINK-FOOTED, were on the edge of the current rip. Immediately, a couple of distant FORK-TAILED STORM-PETRELS flitted by, giving frustratingly unsatisfactory views. The first BLACK-FOOTED ALBATROSS flew up to investigate us and then flew off. RED-NECKED PHALAROPES appeared along each rip and edge between rippled cold water and calm warm water divisions that we crossed.

At about 20 miles offshore we spotted some shearwaters on the water and started a popcorn and cod liver oil slick. Soon we had several ALBATROSSES, CALIFORNIA GULLS, both SHEARWATERS, and a couple of NORTHERN FULMARS feeding around the boat. We were visited briefly by a POMARINE JAEGER, while we spotted a couple more JAEGERS at a distance, but were not always able to assign species.

When satisfied here we headed out a bit farther and followed a current rip northwest until we crossed into official Washington State waters, about 27 nautical miles offshore. We set up another chum slick here. Immediately, FORK-TAILED STORM-PETRELS began dancing across our slick, giving wonderful views. You could see distant BLACK-FOOTED ALBATROSSES winging their way to us from downwind, following the scent of the cod liver oil. A SABINE'S GULL found us, still in its breeding plumage. An ARCTIC TERN flew low around the boat once for all to see. Then a widely spaced group of PACIFIC WHITE-SIDED DOLPHINS began splashing and body surfing down the swells around the boat. Some distant ones were splashing and jumping around a group of shearwaters. They evidently found some baitfish on which to feed.

Seas had really laid down now and our return trip to port was very calm. We spotted many more FORK-TAILED STORM-PETRELS on the way back, and a few more RHINOCEROS AUKLETS with their anvil-shaped head profiles. The majority PINK-FOOTED SHEARWATERS offshore gave way to the more numerous SOOTY SHEARWATERS near shore. Among some flocks were several NORTHERN FULMARS. We flushed a SOUTH POLAR SKUA from in front of the boat. Most passengers could see the big, heavy bird flapping away, bigger than all birds except an albatross, but the white wing patches and pale nape were not seen by most as it disappeared over the horizon.

We stopped at the tip of the South Jetty before crossing the bar. A couple of huge, very huge, bull STELLER'S SEA LIONS ruled the roost, growling and roaring. A couple CALIFORNIA SEA LIONS were mixed in, with their familiar "circus seal" barking. Many BRANDT'S CORMORANTS and BROWN PELICANS were perched on the rocks. A half dozen WANDERING TATTLERS were on the rock, with one smaller shorebird that turned out to be a RUDDY TURNSTONE.

We then crossed the bar, which was beginning to get rough as the tide changed. Once safely inside the river mouth we zipped over to the Washington side and the little cove at Cape Disappointment below the lighthouse and the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center. This cove was filled with HEERMANN'S GULLS and BRANDT'S CORMORANTS.

Next we went upstream along Sand Island. The number of DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANTS and CASPIAN TERNS was staggering. I took a guess at numbers, but I could have low by a factor of four. Squawking, screaming, croaking, whistling, and splashing birds from horizon to horizon!

Here is our full list. Numbers are gross estimates only, and reflect every bird seen in total, by everyone on the boat.

Ocean (Oregon, except for 1 chum stop in Washington)
Surf Scoter 20
Pacific Loon 1
Western Grebe 1
Black-footed Albatross 25 (7 in WA)
Northern Fulmar 50 (3 in WA)
Pink-footed Shearwater 200 (30 in WA)
Sooty Shearwater 400 (15 in WA)
Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel 50 (10 in WA)
Brown Pelican 50
Brandt's Cormorant 100
Double-crested Cormorant 50
Pelagic Cormorant 15
Red-necked Phalarope 150 (30 in WA)
Red Phalarope 10
phalarope (sp.) 50
dowitcher (sp.) 1
shorebird (sp.) 80
South Polar Skua 1
Pomarine Jaeger 8 (3 in WA)
Parasitic Jaeger 2
Pomarine/Par Jaeger 3
Parasitic/Long-tailed Jaeger 1
Heermann's Gull 50
California Gull 100 (25 in WA)
Western Gull 50 (5 in WA)
Western x Glaucous-winged Gull 1
Sabine's Gull 3 (1 in WA)
Caspian Tern 200
Arctic Tern 1 (WA)
Common Murre 2000
Pigeon Guillemot 6
Rhinoceros Auklet 40 (5 in WA)
Tufted Puffin 1
Brown-headed Cowbird 1 juv.

Pacific White-sided Dolphin 100 (85 in WA)
Ocean Sunfish 5
Blue Shark 5 (2 in WA)

South Jetty, mouth of Columbia River, and Sand Island, Oregon
Canada Goose 100
Surf Scoter 25
Brown Pelican 350
Brandt's Cormorant 200
Double-crested Cormorant 8,000
Pelagic Cormorant 50
Wandering Tattler 6
Ruddy Turnstone 1
Western Sandpiper 45
sandpiper (sp.) 35
Heermann's Gull 500
Western/Glaucous-winged Gull 500
Caspian Tern 5,000
Common Murre 6,000
Pigeon Guillemot 6

Steller's Sea Lion 80
California Sea Lion 30
Harbor Porpoise 2

Cape Disappointment and Ilwaco channel, Washington
Canada Goose 40
Mallard 3
Surf Scoter 4
Brown Pelican 50
Brandt's Cormorant 450
Double-crested Cormorant 500
Pelagic Cormorant 25
Great Blue Heron 4
Turkey Vulture 3
Osprey 1
Heermann's Gull 500
Western Gull 100
Caspian Tern 600
Common Murre 400
Pigeon Guillemot 5
Belted Kingfisher 2
American Crow 5
Purple Martin 3
Barn Swallow 10