October 7, 2000
12-hour pelagic trip from Newport, Oregon, to Perpetua Bank (27-37 nautical miles west of Yachats), north end Hecta Bank (40 miles off Heceta Head), and south end Heceta Bank (30 miles off Florence), Oregon.
The first Saturday of October, combined with Heceta Bank, again provided for an outstanding pelagic trip. After the last two trips we felt we deserved some sunshine and calm seas. And, boy, did we get them! I'm not positive, but I don't think we had anyone seasick--a very rare occurrence indeed!
Nearshore fog and glassy seas ended about 20 miles offshore, and most of the day was spent on flat seas and under gloriously sunny skies. As a result, we observed more CASSIN'S AUKLETS than ever before. It was easy to see them sitting up to half a mile away, even without binoculars. There was a small breeze when we were in the clear skies away from the fog. The plump little CASSIN'S AUKLETS bounced, bounced, bounced off the 7-inch(!) wind waves as they tried to fly away from the boat on stubby wings! Sure beats the 8-foot seas and hail of last month! An added benefit of the calm seas was being able to observe, and in many cases, sneak up on, marine mammals--like the NORTHERN FUR SEAL laying on its back grasping its long hind flippers in its fore flippers, a pose called a "jug handle." Toward the end of our journey, 20 miles offshore from Newport, we were able to sneak up on a SOUTH POLAR SKUA sitting on the water, providing awe-inspiring views for all as it took flight on huge wings, accompanied by involuntary "oohs," "aahs," and not a few cheers. A surprising adult BROWN PELICAN, with lots of white, flew by here. I've never seen one more than a mile offshore before.
The trip departed Newport at 7 AM and traveled 35 miles WSW until we were about 27 miles west of Yachats, Oregon, on the west slope of Perpetua Bank. We encountered hundreds of birds sitting in the water behind a couple of draggers which had just dropped their nets and departed before we arrived. We chummed birds to us for an hour. The first SHORT-TAILED SHEARWATER of the day was feeding in the chum slick. Most SOOTY SHEARWATERS were near shore in the fog. Water temperatures have cooled off in recent weeks (about 53-55 F), perhaps having something to do with the lower numbers of SOOTY SHEARWATERS. A large dark-phase POMARINE JAEGER provided some excitement, we thought it might be a skua until we noted the barred uppertail coverts.
We then crossed into Lane County to the delight of the small Eugene contingent. Our second chum stop was in slightly deeper water on the west slope of the north end of Heceta Bank. We again stopped right behind a dragger, and there were 200 BLACK-FOOTED ALBATROSSES here. A bonus LAYSAN ALBATROSS flew in and swam right up to the boat to beg scraps! After another hour we headed 15 miles SE to the shallow southern end of Heceta Bank, about 25 miles off Florence. No chartered pelagic trips have ever ventured here before, where research vessels have recorded many humpback whales in July. Hundreds of CASSIN'S AUKLETS were in this shallow water, but not much else. So instead of chumming here we headed back north over the shallow north end of Heceta Bank, then out beyond Perpetua Bank where we again spotted a dragger and chummed for about 40 minutes about 10 miles farther offshore than our first chum stop, so about 40 miles off Yachats. Here we encountered several jaegers, including a cinnamon-colored juvenile PARASITIC JAEGER. Then it was time to head for port.
About 25 miles offshore from Newport we entered fog again, but the seas were glassy. A small, short-tailed, warbler tried to catch up with the boat, and nearly landed. It was dull (likely a first-fall female) with white tail spots. The end of the tail, however, was dark--the tail spots didn't reach all the way to the end of the tail--eliminating Palm Warbler. I thought the tail pattern most closely resembled the CAPE MAY WARBLER, but could have been BLACKPOLL warbler. This is the best time of year for Blackpoll. Both are very rare vagrants. Matt Hunter's brief, description: "drab, almost light brownish, breast and sides without bold streaks but not plain either, small, short tail, white windows in tail." There's no way we saw enough to tell for sure, but I feel it was likely one of the above two species. The one that got away.... I have heard of Christmas trees being tied to the top of the boat for just such occurrences elsewhere. Some trips off California have had several rare warblers in the little tree at once!
Sunset and wet fog combined to reduce visibility as we entered the harbor--just on schedule.
Birding behind 3 draggers allowed us to set new records for BLACK-FOOTED ALBATROSSES and NORTHERN FULMARS. We recorded the second-highest report of FORK-TAILED STORM-PETRELS in Oregon, including a flock of 300 sitting in a tight bunch on the water (a phenomenal 25,000 were reported from a research vessel (guess where?) over Heceta Bank in 1996). We perhaps also set a record for CASSIN'S AUKLETS.
The fulmars were mostly in fresh plumage--many were an exquisite pearl blue-gray, which must fade to become the normal gray ones we are used to seeing earlier in fall. Then there were some rich, dark, brown birds, which must fade to become the yellowish-tan or mottled gray-brown ones we see in summer. There were about 30 very white birds (including white-backed birds). The SOOTY SHEARWATERS seemed in dark, fresh, plumage also, while the SHORT-TAILED SHEARWATERS appeared worn, an overall dull brownish, and had dark, perhaps fresh, outer primaries. A behavioral note, a couple SHORT-TAILED SHEARWATERS flew parallel to the boat about 250-350 yards off (too far to ID until they came closer). A single bird would stay even with us for more than a half an hour. We have noted this behavior before.
Trip list: Bay (incomplete list, fog, dawn and dusk): Pelagic Cormorant Brown Pelican Heermann's Gull Common Murre Pigeon Guillemot 1 California Sea Lion 12 Offshore: Common Loon 1 Pelagic Cormorant 3 Brown Pelican 2 (one was in fog 20 miles offshore) LAYSAN ALBATROSS 1 (Lane Co.) BLACK-FOOTED ALBATROSS 456 (Oregon record high number) NORTHERN FULMAR 3610 (Oregon record high number) Pink-footed Shearwater 102 Sooty Shearwater 68 SHORT-TAILED SHEARWATER 7 Buller's Shearwater 83 FORK-TAILED STORM-PETREL 577 (highest number for chartered pelagic trip) goose (sp.) 10 (larger, Canada or White-fronted?) Northern Pintail 1 (female 15 miles offshore, appeared to want to land on the boat) Surf Scoter 30 dowitcher (sp.) 30 (25 miles offshore) Red Phalarope 2 phalarope (sp.) 12 (nearshore in fog) Pomarine Jaeger 6 (1 dark phase, 1 juvenile) Parasitic Jaeger 3 (2 adults with tail streamers, 1 juvenile) jaeger (sp.) 2 SOUTH POLAR SKUA 2 Heermann's Gull 2 Mew Gull 1 California Gull 357 Herring Gull 3 THAYER'S GULL 1 (adult) Glaucous-winged Gull 2 Western Gull 240 Sabine's Gull 110 Common Murre 59 (including several parent/chick pairs yet) CASSIN'S AUKLET 454 (Oregon record high number?) Rhinoceros Auklet 70 WARBLER (sp.) 1 (possibly Blackpoll or Cape May Warbler) MINKE WHALE 1 (10 miles off Newport) Dall's Porpoise 11 Sea Lion (sp.) 2 NORTHERN FUR SEAL 2 NORTHERN ELEPHANT SEAL 1 (female) Ocean Sunfish 3 Blue Shark 1