Birds, barf, and joy

The end of the year is closing in and it’s hard to believe there are birds left in Oregon that I haven’t seen. But there are. One last pelagic trip was scheduled this December. I hadn’t intended on going since I’d already been on two trips this year, but my friend Courtney was going and pelagics are better with boat buddies. Also, I figured once I saw reports of what was seen, I’d regret not having gone. I was right. 

On the drive down to Newport I followed a tip on a Burrowing Owl and just as I was about to give up. Owl! #313

It was my goal not to flush this sleepy little owl and I succeeded by staying in my car, observing from a distance and I didn’t stay long so as not to attract attention. I left it just as I’d found it and I was already glad I’d left the house.

In the morning, the predicted ocean conditions weren’t encouraging, but at least the rain was set to hold off for another day. At 8am 15 intrepid birders set off from the dock to see what we could find. 

It was a goal to get to the bow (front) of the ship this time. In all my trips I’ve never ventured up there because it’s a rockier part of the ship. And if there’s one thing I need it’s less rocking. But I did it!

View from the front

At least in the beginning. I was somewhere near the front when we found the most accommodating Ancient Murrelet

A great start! Gradually though I retreated to the back of the boat as the swells increased. I kept calm for the majority of the trip, but at least at one chum stop I bowed to the sea. It happens. And sometimes it brings in the birds! I recovered a little as Sooty and Short-tailed Shearwaters (#313) zoomed by, and we spotted our first Black-footed Albatross.

Hello albatross!

Not long after, Laysan Albatross! They’ve been seen on every Oregon pelagic this fall (Aug-Dec), that must be a good sign.

And we saw Black-legged Kittiwake.

There was a quiet stretch as we continued farther and farther out, fewer birds to look at means more attention paid to the motion. It can get tough. Short video here from when I could hold the camera. Luckily, at around 35 miles out we found another group of birds. There were so many albatross.

Then Shawneen called out, “Short-tailed Albatross!” and I perked right up. This is a very exciting bird. I’d seen one on the 2017 December pelagic trip, but they are rare and never a guarantee. Especially the good looks we had. 

Coming through

It’s not everyday you see three albatross species in one binocular view. So incredibly lucky!

My risk paid off in albatross. The later it got, the angrier the ocean became. Sneaker waves shook us and it was time to turn the boat around. On the return trip Pacific White-sided Dolphins followed in our wake while Humpback Whales moved alongside us.

I didn’t feel 100% this trip, but it was all worth it. And that’s not all! Just as we headed back into the marina, someone yelled out Glaucous Gull! The rear ran to the front. Another state year bird!

#316

Such a great trip! Unfortunately I missed the Parakeet Auklet fly-by this time, it’s one of those birds seen best from the bow and I was far from it by then. Some day!

After de-boarding Courtney and I celebrated (dry land!), she’d found at least 3 life birds and I’d seen 3 year birds. And we had just enough daylight to make a quick look for Snow Buntings and Lapland Longspurs at the North Jetty. We dipped on the longspurs but found the cutest bunting with bright orange cheeks guarding the dunes.

I stayed overnight in Newport to rest up and in the morning I followed a Ruddy Turnstone report by the Pacific Oyster Company. Luckily the report was was legit and within minutes of scanning the 40+ Black Turnstones I picked out the one with the bright orange legs.

Ruddy Turnstone! #317

Back from the coast and back at work this week, I had just enough time before a dentist’s appointment to look for a handsome male Red-naped Sapsucker in Sherwood. It’d been two years since I’ve seen one!

Yes! This one was so easy. #318. Only two birds from 320! That’s a pretty nice number.

Dear Santa, for Christmas this year I’d like a Ruffed Grouse, Mountain Quail, American Tree Sparrow, Snowy Egret, Rusty Blackbird, Gray-crowned Rosy Finch, Bohemian Waxwing, Common Redpoll, Snowy Owl, Sedge Wren (?!) and/or any exotic warbler. Maybe Santa’s helpers will find something during the Christmas Bird Count

Happy holidays,

Audrey 

Bunting to the boat

My five hour pelagic trip at the Oregon Shorebird Festival went so well I thought I’d test my system on an 8-hour late fall trip out of Newport last weekend. It was a good opportunity to pad my Oregon year list to try and get to 300 species. I left work early Friday to make way for the coast.

But first I made a stop at Mary’s Peak near Corvallis to look for a reported Snow Bunting. I had a lot of doubts going in that it would still be there. And even if it was would I be able to see it through the thick fog?

Questionable choices

I parked and walked the half mile to the summit along a service road. It was pretty easy walking lucky for me and my ankle. Almost to the top I saw a man and his daughter on their return trip, the man asked if I was a birder and told me “it’s still here, right next to the picnic tables.” Hooray!

Indeed it was! I almost tripped over the thing. In the misty rain and fog it blended right in with the gravel road. I laid down in the grass and hung out with my life bird (#492). Totally worth the detour!

Gosh you’re cute

I got to Newport, settled in, and before long it was the next morning and time to board the boat. The weather forecast was not good. There was a “hazardous seas” alert until 3am the morning of, and 8-9ft swells predicted for the day. A bad weather forecast does nothing to help anxiety. But lucky for us, the day started out calmer than predicted and we even had some sun!

Oregon you kidder, you.

Since there were no processing ships to chase our captain picked an azimuth and kept on going. About five miles out we spotted a pair of Marbled Murrelets.

Not long after we found a group of feeding birds including mostly Sooty Shearwater.

With a Pink-footed Shearwater in the mix.

This was also where we saw one of our only jaegers of the trip, a Pomarine Jaeger that surprisingly didn’t stay long.

Shortly after we had a Buller’s Shearwater that was one passenger’s 1000th life bird!

Cheers

I’d boarded the boat at 297 Oregon year birds and hoped for Laysan Albatross, Black-legged Kittiwake, or any kind of storm petrel. Eventually we came across a small fishing vessel, catching slime eels (or Hagfish). Birds aren’t picky, they were there too.

Our guide Tim (and a few unwell passengers) chummed the waters here and the birds came on over including a Laysan Albatross! #298!

And several Black-footed Albatross!

This was a good chum stop.

Happy Albatross

The Laysan Albatross floated close to the boat, next to black-footed.

Double-decker

Rumor is there is a (new? re-established?) Laysan Albatross breeding colony in Mexico, so (though still not common), more individuals are being seen on Oregon pelagics, not just the LAAL from the Hawaii colony. This is good news for albatross and for Oregon birders.

Hola or Aloha?

About this time the weather turned dark and the boat turned around. I took another Bonine pill and kept my calm. A third of the way back the captain spotted a group of birds and moved us closer to inspect.

Someone yelled Black-legged Kittiwake! Yes! #299!

How lucky am I? Pretty damn lucky. There were at least two juvenile birds. They look almost like Bonaparte’s Gulls but they have an extra black on the neck and of course black legs.

It felt good to get two birds closer to 300. And birds that are hard if not impossible to see in Oregon on land. And did I mention I didn’t chum the waters? Success all around. I survived! With no puking! And I felt good. Good enough to enjoy myself and think about future trips.

Back on land I met my dad for celebratory drinks and dinner at a quaint little Italian joint in Nye Beach called Sorella. It was one of the best meals I’ve ever had. Of course food always tastes that much better after a pelagic.

Mmmmmmm

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Shorebird Festival Pelagic

Part of the fun of the Oregon Shorebird Festival is the pelagic trip. After my first disaster of a pelagic experience in 2015 I wasn’t sure I’d ever do it again. But since then I’ve had a couple of successful trips, and after loads of trial and error (and meds) I feel like I’ve finally got my system dialed in.

I’m not saying it’s 100% barfproof, but it’s getting there. Having the right gear and knowing what medication combination works makes the biggest difference for a pleasant ride. This next trip would be my shortest, only 5 hours, less time for “complications” and a good test for my recovering ankle. I felt pretty good boarding the boat as we set off from Charleston.

Oregon Pelagic Tours has the best guides, they’re my favorite people to be out at sea with. Our trip began just past the jetties when we saw Rhinoceros Auklets, Red-necked Phalarope, Marbled Murrelets, and Cassin’s Auklets.

Flying potatoes

Before I knew it we were in Sooty Shearwater territory. And not far behind we got a quick look at terns, a Common Tern, with a small dark bill and dark carpal bars (shoulders).

And a second tern that was first I.D.’d as Elegant until it was examined more closely in photos after the boat ride.

It was thought to be Elegant because of the clean underside and perceived longer bill, but despite this, experts now agree it is actually a Common Tern, as adults transitioning into non-breeding plumage can have red at the base of the bill. Not quite Elegant enough and a very tricky tern.

Eventually we found fishing ships. And lucky for us they were just pulling up their nets.

It was a perfect time to chum the waters. Chum brings the gulls, which brings the jaegers!

We saw all three, a jaeger slam. I’ll start with the easy one. Large, beefy bird with a bi-colored bill, and the largest white wing “flash” on upper and lower wings (6-8 white shafts on outer wing feathers): POMARINE.

A better look at that white flash and those spoon-shaped central tail feathers:

The next jaeger, wing flash is visible, more than two shafts in the upper wing, and a close-up of the bill reveals the gonydeal tip is near the edge: PARASITIC.

And finally, the third.

There are only two white primary shafts on the outer primaries. That is diagnostic for: LONG-TAILED. It also has black and white barring underneath the tail, and a small bill with gonydeal tip in the mid-point, but the minimal flash is what to look for.

Because eBird quizzes are so much fun, here’s a jaeger quiz bird:

Is it A: Long-tailed B: Parasitic C: Pomarine or D: None of the above? (answer at the end)

I thought tail shape was the main factor in jaeger ID and it is helpful, but angles mislead and feathers break. It’s all about the white on the wings and bill shape for jaeger ID. My goal is to eventually learn enough to be able to do more in the field besides hang on for dear life. Clearly I need to spend more time on the boat.

If not for jaeger identification, then to look at more Black-footed Albatross.

They were there too, though in lower numbers than trips in the past. There were higher numbers of Sabine’s Gulls though.

Can’t mistake that one. We also got great looks at a South Polar Skua with the Sabine’s!

Skua-sabine combo

The Skua passed close to the boat several times giving us killer looks.

Also amazing were Buller’s Shearwaters, with that clean white underside.

And scapulars for days.

Not bad for five hours out to sea! I’m grateful for such an amazing barf-free trip. The weather was milder than predicted and the sea swells mostly cooperated. We had a couple of whale sightings and a blue shark visited the chum spot but I failed to get a photo. But the birds never disappoint, they’re the best reason to get back on that boat.

Quiz answer: Two white shafts visible on that upper wing means A: LONG-TAILED

Good job. Some are impossible.

Tweets and chum,

Audrey