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

Puffins to Owls w/ Dad

Last week my dad visited from Florida to check out some apartments on the Oregon coast. He’s considering trading his eastern birds for western. Crazy, but true. We spent three nights between Newport and Seaside. My dad likes birds and packed his binoculars so our agenda was set.

We started at Beaver Creek Natural Area, one of my new favorite places since I saw my Oregon Black-and-White Warbler and my lifer Ruff here back in January. We drove past the wetlands and stopped for a Green Heron, followed by Virginia Rails out in the open (!) of course only for a split second. I thought maybe we could hear the Gray Catbird that’d been recently sighted (and is possibly nesting here) but no luck.

Green Heron and Barn Swallows

True to form, the Oregon coast was foggy, misty and cool and pretty much stayed that way the whole time. We visited the feeders at Beaver Creek next and saw Anna’s Hummingbird and Rufous Hummingbird. In that order.

Sometimes the feeders got a bit crowded.

Song Sparrow, American Goldfinch, Purple Finch Black-headed Grosbeak

Onward we phished up some curious warblers including Orange-crowned Warblers and Wilson’s Warblers.

In the afternoon we stopped by the Peregrine Falcon nest at Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area and it did not disappoint. We saw two falcons, one at the nest and another that screamed in an out entertaining visitors to the parking lot.

Before sunset we took a trip to Boiler Bay to scope out some adorable Marbled Murrelets and boring whales.

Woooooooo!

Yawn

We had good luck the next morning at Sitka Sedge State Natural Area where we met two Black Phoebe in the parking lot.

And a Wrentit along the trail right where it was supposed to be.

We missed the Snowy Plovers on the beach this day, but we did end up driving farther north to Fort Stevens State Park to look for a reported large group of Marbled Godwits. I had the bright idea to go to the end and work our way back, which was a terrible idea, because it wasn’t until after many miles and many stops in soft sand that we finally spotted them.

I said, I see godwits! My dad said, “Seriously?!” Not sure he believed me after all the misses. But there they were, all 73 of them.

Best of the bunch

Not just godwits, there was Semipalmated Sandiper, Sanderling, Western Sandpiper, the most Semipalmated Plovers I’ve seen in one place (56!).

Filling every nook

And young Caspian Terns in fancy outfits that just fascinated me.

So fancy

Where to go from here? Cannon Beach for Tufted Puffins of course! To which we saw just one (and only one) before celebrating over tasty beers and food at Pelican Brewery. The following morning we did a better job at finding puffins mixed in with Common Murre on the rock.

We watched them waddle awkwardly around on the rock, occasionally diving fearlessly off into the air.

On the drive home back into sunshine, we had time to stop at Dawson Creek Park in Hillsboro to check out the Acorn Woodpeckers which are always entertaining.

While strolling through the forest, I pointed out an area that sometimes has Great Horned Owls, but I’d never seen them. Then I looked up and lo and behold. Two!

Moral of the story, if you want to see owls, just start talking about them and they’ll show up. Such a fun trip! And a great variety of birds, we saw 85 species! I don’t know if my dad will move here, but the birds and I will be waiting for him if he does.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

A Better Pelagic

Scarier than Halloween is pelagic birding. Ever since my first traumatic experience I’ve wanted to try again. Crazy, I know but Albatross are that good. It had been too long since I’d seen them and I wanted a better boat experience. I remember saying “I’d do it again in a heartbeat” but those are the things you say when you’re safe on dry land.

I needed timing, weather, and my nerves all to align. When I saw my friend Eric’s post asking if anyone wanted to join him this October for “10 hours of waves and lifers,” I was so scared because I knew I was going to go for it.

I was better prepared this time. I obsessively checked the weather, bought new rain gear, cut out coffee and alcohol, ate bland food for a week, stocked up on saltines, and loaded up on medication. This time I remember my boots. And lucky for me at the last minute my friend Sarah joined for the trip (not the boat part) and she provided exceptional moral support. “Is it too late to back out?” “Yes, put your shoes on and go.” Damn.

Sarah dropped us off early morning and we set off. The real test began once the boat passed the jetty. No turning back now. I nervously held my breath as we spotted the first Sooty Shearwaters.



I gripped the seat as while we looked at tiny Marbled Murrelets.

And Rhinocerous Auklets that I didn’t get great photos of.

I sipped water and saltines as we saw Red-necked Phalarope, Common Murre, and our first Parasitic Jaeger. No photos of that one either sadly, but I did manage one of a Pomarine Jaeger at our first chum stop.

Here we also saw strikingly patterned Buller’s Shearwater.

And Pink-footed Shearwater.

Its best bits

Our first Northern Fulmar.

And as I glared at the dude eating veggi-chips next to me (food smells are tough), I managed to hold it together for Black-footed Albatross!

Yeah buddy, these are amazing birds. They soared gracefully up, over, and around us.

I loved watching them take off, running along the water’s surface.

So good.

The sea swells were 8ft this time (vs. 11ft the first time), still choppy, and not great for keeping composure. See a short video here. This was Eric’s first pelagic and he said he didn’t realize how hard it would be just to stand up. Let alone use binoculars, cameras, and look at birds. But we managed okay.

I appreciated the South Polar Skua coming in to score some food.

I was even able to enjoy the whale sighting this time. About 40 miles offshore we witnessed a humpback whale breaching over and over again and slapping its flippers on the water surface (pectoral fin slapping).


This sort of stuff doesn’t happen in real life. It was breathtaking. The guess on the boat was that this was a young whale making noise to locate its pod. Such a sweet whale. I second Jen’s recommendation to check out Sonic Sea on Vimeo (free with code SONICSEE) about how important sound is to these magnificent underwater creatures.

Other interesting highlights were the American Pipit that almost made landfall on the boat, apparently exhausted along its migration. And one Northern Fulmar that actually did land on the boat, then proceeded to projectile vomit on the deck. That’s the bird’s effective defense mechanism. I wish I’d gotten a photo of the ordeal, but I was concentrating on keeping myself from getting sick.

Stand back or I’ll puke on you

It almost worked. But at the last stop, while we watched for Short-tailed Shearwaters I finally succumbed to the sickness. Unlike last time though, I felt mostly better after and could still look at birds.

One of those might be Short-tailed

I picked up three lifers on the trip, Short-tailed Shearwater, Long-tailed Jaeger, and Leach’s Storm-Petrel. The petrels were tough to see, let alone photograph.

One of the petrels

On the return trip, unlike last time when I was freezing and pummeled by waves, this time it was smooth sailing. We’d avoided the roughest seas, saw albatross, a breaching whale, and I didn’t die? I call that a win.

So happy to see that bridge

This was a much better pelagic than last time.

I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

Trick or tweets,

Audrey