September 13, 2003

8 hours out of Ilwaco, Washington to Astoria Canyon, Oregon & Washington

TRIP REPORT by Tom Snetsinger

A clear morning with a prediction of good seas greeted us as we gathered at our boat, the Big Dipper, for an exciting trip out from Ilwaco, WA, across the Columbia bar and over the deep waters of the Astoria Canyon, an area that has received little recent coverage by pelagic birders but which holds a lot of promise for drawing in interesting species.

The first birds of the day were a small group of Least Sandpipers and Killdeer that were foraging along the mudflat in the marina. We motored slowly out of the bay studying Brandt's and Double-crested Cormorants and a host of gulls that included California, Western, Glaucous-winged, and Ring-billed in a wide array of plumages along with many that were some unknown and unknowable combination of the above species. An adult Bald Eagle captured our attention as it flew across the channel from Sand Island and perched near its nest in an old sitka spruce. This massive structure must have been active for many years to have accumulated the mass of material assembled there.

As we crossed the breadth of the Columbia and began moving out toward the river mouth, a Parasitic Jaeger took flight and began harassing the flocks of gulls that had congregated in this area. Here we got excellent looks at Heermann's Gulls as well as distant views of the first Sooty Shearwaters racing over the wave tops inside the jetty. Flocks of Common Murres added a new dimension to the birding as we moved out into open ocean and we began to get closer views of Sooty Shearwaters, but we also began to buck rougher water. The skipper worked the boat further south and eventually got us through these confused waters that were tossing us every which way at once. We added a couple more species to the list with a couple of Northern Fulmars and Pink-footed Shearwaters and we set up an oil drip to try to draw some of the tubenoses into our wake.

The Astoria Canyon drops steeply and we quickly went from 1500 foot deep water to 3000 foot deep water, where we stopped for our first chum location. Almost immediately after setting up the slick, Tim pointed out a small dark bird with a bright white rump patch that flew by within 20 m of the boat. "Leach's Storm-Petrel!" he called. He paused, and then, "NO! WILSON'S STORM-PETREL!!" We studied the bird hard over the next few minutes and there could be no doubt. The white rump was bright and unmarked by the Leach's central dividing stripe; the white wrapped around the sides of the rump and onto the undertail coverts; the bird lacked the pale carpal bars that Leach's shows; it had short triangular wings, a squared off tail and it kept up this diagnostic foot-pattering foraging technique with its long delicate legs. It put on a great show over the next 40 minutes, but never again approached as closely as it did on its first pass. We took a GPS point and after reviewing the available charts, it appears the bird was in Oregon waters by about a half mile, making it the third state record for this species. Besides this exciting bird we had good looks at Northern Fulmars, Sooty Shearwaters, and eventually a Pink-footed Shearwater settled in behind the boat for extended study. A couple of Fork-tailed Storm-Petrels added to the excitement. Eventually the Wilson's Storm-Petrel flew off, having eaten its fill, and we worked out further to the northwest in search of albatross.

We set up a second chum slick in 1100 feet of water 25 miles off the coast and after 20-30 minutes began to get our first albatross. A number of these magnificent birds cruised by before the first finally settled on the water and allowed us to approach them for close study. Several Pomarine Jaegers checked out the multitude of gulls that had gathered to eat our popcorn and herring and most everyone got to study a couple of different plumages. A couple of fly-by Rhinocerous Auklets and our best views of the elegant Buller's Shearwaters added to the excitement of seeing the albatross.

With predictions of increasing winds and some uncertainty as to how long it would take to work our way back to port we began heading toward shore. We made good time, so this afforded us an opportunity to explore the south jetty where we found a mammoth group of Steller's Sea Lions hanging out on the final finger of the partially submerged jetty. There grunting belches contrasting with the barks of the California Sea Lions, which were assembled further up on the intact jetty, and heavy duty aroma made this a complete sensory experience. Here we also got good looks at Red-necked Phalaropes as well as Surfbirds and Black Turnstones.

We closed out the trip with a slow cruise by cormorant colony at Deception Point and added Wandering Tattler to our species list, and finally cruised around to the east end of Sand Island where we learned about the on-going research and management efforts concerning Caspian Terns on the lower Columbia River.

Thank you all for joining us on this adventure, and we certainly hope to see you again on one of our upcoming trips.


SPECIES LIST (compiled by Tom Snetsinger and Tim Shelmerdine)

SPECIES Trip
Western Grebe 2

Black-footed Albatross 9
Northern Fulmar 80
Pink-footed Shearwater 45
Buller's Shearwater 12
Sooty Shearwater 180
Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel 5
WILSON'S STORM-PETREL 1

Brown Pelican 100
Brandt's Cormorant 250
Double-crested Cormorant 75
Pelagic Cormorant 80
Surf Scoter 8
White-winged Scoter 10

Least Sandpiper 4
Black Turnstone 7
Surfbird 9
Wandering Tattler 2
Red-necked Phalarope 20
Red Phalarope 2
Killdeer 2

Pomarine Jaeger 5
Parasitic Jaeger 2
Heermann's Gull 180
Ring-billed Gull 15
California Gull 250
Herring Gull 3
Western Gull 250
Glaucous-winged Gull 25
Caspian Tern 2

Common Murre 200
Rhinocerous Auklet 3

Great Blue Heron 2
Great Egret 2

Peregrine Falcon 1
Bald Eagle 1

Belted Kingfisher 1
Barn Swallow 1

Steller's Sea Lion 150
California Sea Lion 90
Harbor Seal 1
Dall's Porpoise 3

Ocean Sunfish 2
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