California- Farallon Islands

After such a successful pelagic the day before I was calmer the following morning.

This trip departed from Sausalito so we got to ride underneath the Golden Gate Bridge.

It started foggy, but things cleared up once a breeze kicked in. It was much easier to appreciate colorful Tufted Puffins.

And see the Shearwaters.

Shearwater journeys

As we made way to the Farallon Islands (Farallón in Spanish means “pilar” or “sea cliff”).

The Farallon Islands are a National Wildlife Refuge, not open to the public, but only to a few lucky researchers. These ridiculous islands have logged 377 bird species on eBird. We boated up to “sugar loaf” the island named for the sweet piles of bird poo on top.

There are mostly Brandt’s Cormorants, Common Murre, Pigeon Guillemots, Western Gulls, and the best bird could have been a long-staying Northern Gannet that lives at sugar loaf but the gannet wasn’t home this day. What the Farallons lacked in gannet they made up for with whale.

We saw probably 20 Humpback Whales at least.

Feeding with gulls and sea lions working together to trap anchovies.

It was one of the most incredible things I’ve seen. Video here. It was hard to pull away, but we had more birds to look at along the continental shelf and Pioneer Sea Canyon.

We saw Northern Fulmar.

Black-footed Albatross.

Cassin’s Auklets.

And the “rarest” bird of the trip, a Fork-tailed Storm Petrel.

Not a life bird, I’ve seen one on Oregon pelagics, but it’s been a while and it’s a good bird for California in the summer. It was the best looks I’ve gotten to date.

We turned around then, and when we got back to the bay it was a bright and sunny ride under the bridge.

A pretty nice way to end pelagic #2. That and no one on the ship got sick. I spent a total of 19 hours at sea in two days, saw two life birds, AND SURVIVED. Incredible.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Last Weekend II

In the morning neither Tomas nor I was ready to go home, instead we opted for more birding and biking. He left to bike over the coast range, while I drove south past Tillamook to Sitka Sedge State Natural Area. Or at least what will eventually become SSSNA.

Apparently it opens mid-2018, and for now it lacked any beach access I could find, so I continued a mile and a half farther to the first legal parking area. And finally, I began the long walk on the beach.

Luckily, it was gorgeous weather. One of those impossible 70-degree days on the Oregon coast. Why was I trying to get to this beach so badly? Plovers, that’s why.

The walk was slow and quiet for a while, only a few gulls and sanderlings.

And one very sad, dead, light Northern Fulmar.

I mourned and moved on, and a couple more miles down the beach I heard the most annoying noise. Brrrrraaaaaaaaap.

Across the way was Sand Lake Recreation Area covered in noisy OHVs. So with that crap in the background, I kept going. And eventually, I spotted them.

Nestled safely in tire tracks in the sand were a Sanderling, Dunlin, and two Snowy Plovers!

Commence the cuteness! Because besides these I found several others.

Behind a crabshell

Behind kelp

In more tire tracks

But the best was when they scurried along and hid in footprints in the sand.

So hidden

I laid down in the sand to try and reduce my impact and to get a better eye-view of the plovers’ world.

This was when I noticed several birds were banded. I found 7 (and am waiting on submitted band reports).

I also noticed the view of Haystack rock in the distance wasn’t half bad.

I couldn’t have been happier even covered in wet sand. As I started heading back I noticed a sign.

A project for plovers! This is wonderful news. With all their “hiding spots” they just seem so vulnerable and exposed on the beach. Certain times of years cars drive on this very spot. And walking back, I saw a dog-walker throwing a tennis ball over and over for their dog, I thought, dang those plovers look like tiny white tennis balls. So vulnerable.

Snowy Plovers are listed as threatened and are protected in all states along the west coast. There are more plovers in southern Oregon beaches but in the north, they need more help. At least state and wildlife officials are making the effort to protect nesting areas. If nothing else.

This was one sighting I very much appreciated. For the birds, absolutely, and also because this species puts me in the top 100 eBirders of Oregon! I’ve seen 324 species in the state. Unbelievable! And I look forward to seeing many more.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

December Pelagic and Astoria

Less than a week after my plane landed back in Portland I signed myself up for a 7-hour pelagic trip. Because a winter boat ride in the Pacific Ocean sounds like a good idea, right? Of course it does for the chance for winter seabirds like Short-tailed Shearwater, Ancient Murrelet, Laysan Albatross, Parakeet Auklet, and rare Mottled Petrel.

Since I’d just been on the October pelagic trip, the conditions were fresh in my mind. Honestly, I wouldn’t have dared, but the weather forecast looked surprisingly hopeful, my doctor gave me a Rx refill, and 7-hours sounded mild compared to the 12-hours I was used to. I was on board. And as it turns out, this was a good combination because for the first time, no seasickness!!

Smooth sailing

The best bird of the trip was a Short-tailed Albatross!

This chocolate-brown bird with the bubblegum-pink bill is a juvenile of the species, as they mature their feathers turn white with black edging. It has a wingspan of over 7ft and is the largest seabird in the North Pacific.

It’s also a great reason to go out on a boat in December.

Northern Fulmar for scale

Once hunted nearly to extinction (and even declared extinct in 1949), they are now listed as endangered throughout their range. It was juvenile birds, like this one that brought the species back.

Albatross spend most of their maturing years out at sea, and take many years to return to their breeding colonies. After they were thought to be extinct, some birds returned to Torishima Island and the first egg was laid by returning birds in 1954. Slowly they’ve come back and are now threatened by storms, volcanoes, long-line fishing, pollution, and oil spills. We were incredibly lucky to see one.

Other highlights included the always-popular Black-footed Albatross (they look similar to short-tailed but with a dark bill).

I noticed one was banded!

EA23 was banded in 2009 at Tern Island, Hawaii (look at this photo circle!!). So cool!

Albatross fan club

And a very distant sighting of Laysan Albatross!

So distant and blurry, here’s a one from Hawaii to remember how awesome they are.

It was a three albatross day! That’s a pretty good day.

We also saw a juvenile Black-legged Kittiwake.

And a second kittiwake, an adult showing the unmarked yellow bill.

There were Cassin’s Auklets, Ancient Murrelets, and a pair of Parakeet Auklets (seen by few), that I completely missed. Next time I might try my luck the bow of the ship for a better chance to see the smaller birds. We’ll see if I’m that brave.

I did get Rhinocerous Auklet, Pink-footed Shearwater, and a Humpback Whale, that was less jumpy than last time.

Back on land, after having survived another pelagic trip, I felt energized and inspired to continue birding at the coast. I took a chance and drove to Astoria where White-winged Crossbills had been sighted. Apparently every decade or so there is an irruption of this boreal forest finch. Chasing crossbills isn’t the easiest gamble, but there’d been multiple sightings.

I drove three and a half hours north and made it to Astoria by 7pm. In the morning I checked out of the mostly adequate Motel 6 and drove farther north to Cape Disappointment in Washington. I thought maybe I could find crossbills in both states (so greedy!).

Is it light enough to look for birds?

A couple of flocks flew by overhead, but no confirmed white-wings. Pine Siskin wanted me to think they were White-winged Crossbills.

I got a tip too look for Trumpeter Swans in a nearby pond.

Can’t a girl look at swans without getting stared at?

Success! I think? Let’s take a closer look at that bill. All black, no yellow lore.

Besides the lack of yellow lore, the characteristic that stands out to me distinguishing it from Tundra is the broad black connection between the eye and the mask. Not an easy ID! I still find this document handy, and I found this website helpful too.

After Cape Disappointment lived up to its name, I decided to look at Fort Stevens State Park in Oregon for White-winged Crossbills. This time I had better luck! There were yellow ones.

And red ones, both attracted to spruce cone seeds.

And as per usual, hanging out at the tippy tops of trees and hard to see. Reading up on crossbills, apparently there are ten (!) types (distinguished by calls) that can be interpreted as ten different species. I’m not ready for that. Maybe by the next decade.

Until then, there’s shorebirds to look at like the Rock Sandpiper still hanging out at Seaside Cove.

Leave it to birds to always keep things interesting. The coast does not disappoint either!

Looking forward to the next oceanic adventure.

Happy holidays!

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey