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

Chasing Dreams

I’ve gained a few gray hairs the past week chasing birds. No risk, no reward, right? Well, I drove 2 hours south to Fern Ridge Reservoir in Eugene one day hoping for one Buff-breasted Sandpiper (out of four seen the day prior) and a bonus Stilt Sandpiper. But I got no reward.

Barren of buff birds

It was brutal. Not just because I missed the birds, but because it was a case of TMTS. Too much too soon on my new ankle and after 8 hours of walking (on fire) and no birds I finally gave up. Of course the birds were refound the next day, but I was already at home drowning my sorrows in mimosas and cake. I just couldn’t.

After my rest day I opted for a trip to the forest for a pika survey. It was exactly what I needed.

Peaceful, quiet forest with close-up views of my favorite mammal. Shorebirds? Who cares. I’d almost forgotten about birds. There were adorable Eeeps all around me.

But wait, what’s that chip note? That’s not a Dark-eyed Junco. It was a Macgillivray’s Warbler! What a nice surprise.

Reinvigorated, I hiked back to the car and decided to make a 40-min detour up the roughest road ever to check out Bonney Butte, a Hawkwatch International site. I thought I’d been there a year ago, but it’s actually been three! These birding years are going by fast.

This was a good choice. For two quiet, sunny hours I hung out with Krista Fanucchi and Sydney Schick, Hawkwatch International volunteers. We chatted about birds while watching them fly by in the sky.

It was quiet but still pleasant. The best bird was a Northern Goshawk bombed by a Sharp-shinned Hawk.

Not a fair battle. So amazing. We also saw Turkey Vultures, Red-tailed Hawks, and a resident Cooper’s Hawk. It’s still early in migration season. Other birds included Clark’s Nutcracker, Townsend’s Solitaire, Mountain Chickadee, and Hermit Thrush.

Mountain bird combo: Townsend’s Solitaire and Hermit Thrush

I was pretty happy going home and felt much better about how I spent my time because the next day it was back to work. Until an email came in at noon about a Buff-breasted Sandpiper still present at Nehalem Bay State Park. By 12:30 I was out the door and on my way. It was crazy but I had a good feeling about this one. No risk, no reward, right?

This time it paid off. After two hours of driving, I made it to Nehalem, walked down to the beach, and spotted some birders sitting in the grass.

Not looking at that gull

This was a good sign. Sure enough, I sat down next to them and enjoyed the show.

Bunus, there were two!

What a dream. These sandpipers are unique in that they have a lek mating system, males display for females clicking and displaying their buff colors. They nest in the far north Arctic Circle and rarely come through Oregon (typically migrating through central U.S.). For some reason this fall has been a buffy-bonanza. I felt pretty lucky to have seen this lifebird (#490!) and I spent as much time with them as I could.

This brings me to last week, when five (!) BBSA were spotted in the Oak Island mudflats on Sauvie Island by Zack Schlanger. County birds! And five of them! How could I resist? This time I waited until after work and drove out before sunset. I met up with a few other birders already feasting their eyes and I joined in the fun.

I could only get three in one photo comfortably.

Killdeer for scale

Shorebirds were fun again. I’ve talked to several birders about the joys and sorrows of chasing birds, at worst it’s a big waste of time and an emotional trainwreck, at best it can bring birding bliss for days. Of course it’s even better finding your own, but rare birds are rare for a reason. I’ve heard some birders take time off chasing, and it’s a slippery slope back in.

For me right now, I think it’s case by case. I try, I fail, I take a break, I try again. Just like anything it’s about making the most out of the opportunities available. Like when a Parasitic Jaeger shows up also at Sauvie Island.

Yup, I chased that too.

It pays to have friends in birdy places. Thanks to Sarah, Max, and Jen for finding it! And to Colby for refinding and leading me right to it.

Guru mantis says: make the most of your time and follow your dreams.

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