Deep Water Pelagic

I went on the deep water trip organized by Oregon Pelagic Tours. The goal of this trip was to get 50 miles offshore to explore some deeper water (6000 feet). There are a few species of birds our there that are not often seen closer in, so I had hopes of picking up a new bird or two. We struck out on the deep water specialties, but we saw so many great birds on this trip that it was hard to be disappointed.

Northern Fulmars were one of the more common species seen on the trip. They come right up to the boat to beg for food.
Most of the Northern Fulmars seen off the Oregon Coast are darker birds like this one.

Black-footed Albatrosses are also extremely common once you get about 30 miles offshore.

Black-footed Albatross with a very pale Northern Fulmar

Black-footed Albatross with a California Gull

Pink-footed Shearwaters are another common species on many trips. They fly by the boat but tend to not rest on the water too close.

Among the 700 or so Black-footed Albatrosses we saw on this trip were three Laysan Albatrosses.
Laysan Albatross with its smokey eye, and a Northern Fulmar in the background

The calm waters allowed us to see many Northern Fur Seals, recognizable by their habit of sticking their large pectoral fins out of the water.

Twelve hours on the water made for a long day. I spent the entire trip along the front rail looking for birds, because if I let my guard down at any time, that is when the mega-rarity will show up. Even if you don’t get a new bird, the common species, along with other marine wildlife, always make a day on the water worth the effort.

Deep Water Pelagic

sunriseI took a 12-hour pelagic trip out of Newport last Saturday. The morning started out with the typical cool cloudy weather one expects on the Oregon coast. Here is the sun rising over the Coast Range.

pink-footed shearwater patterThe most common species of the day was Pink-footed Shearwater. The largest concentration of birds was gathered behind a fish processing ship. While I am opposed to the strip-mining of our oceans, these ships always attract a lot of birds.

flock 4
flock 1Pink-footed Pandemonium (There is also a Black-footed Albatross and a Sooty Shearwater)

black-footed albatross flying black-footed albatross backBlack-footed Albatrosses are common once you get out about 20 miles. This individual had an odd lump in her neck. I hope it is just a large food item in her crop and not a disposable lighter or some other piece of trash.

fork-tailed storm-petrel 1 fork-tailed storm-petrel 2We saw more Fork-tailed Storm-Petrels than I had ever seen before.

wilson's storm-petrelWe saw three other species of storm-petrel, all very rare in Oregon waters. This is a Wilson’s Storm-Petrel. The other two were Black and Ashy Storm-Petrels.

bridgeBy the time we returned to port, the weather was sunny and hot. That’s just not right. I ended the day with a nasty sunburn.

brandt's cormorantsBack in the bay, families of Brandt’s Cormorants were on the pilings.

dc cormorantDouble-crested Cormorant

common murreCommon Murre.


Pelagic trip, September 10, 2011

On Saturday I went on another excellent pelagic trip out of Newport with Greg Gillson and his band of wonderful guides. The weather was cool, windy, and foggy. Seas were very rough, so many cookies were tossed and chunder was blown among my fellow birders. But thanks to Bonine, my stomach survived the trip unscathed. Rough seas made photography very challenging, but here are a few images from the day.

A foggy sunrise beneath the Yaquina Bay Bridge.

Once we we got well offshore, the fog cleared and the Black-footed Albatrosses appeared. These are common birds on virtually every Oregon pelagic trip, but they are always magnificent to see.

Black-footed Albatross

Black-footed Albatross next to a Northern Fulmar

This Northern Fulmar is dining on a chunk of beef fat.

The Northern Fulmars make a hasty retreat at the appearance of a South Polar Skua. Skuas make their living beating up smaller seabirds and stealing their lunch.

While I have seen South Polar Skuas on many other trips, this is the first time I have seen them resting on the water.

In flight, South Polar Skuas are easily recognized by their barrel-chested shape and white patches at the base of the primaries.

As we got back closer to shore, we found this Tufted Puffin.

Yaquina Head, just north of Newport. The rocks just offshore here are important nesting colonies for many seabirds.

Pelagic Trip 9/11/2010

I took a pelagic birding trip out of Newport, OR, on September 11. This was a trip offered by Greg Gilson of The Bird Guide, Inc. His trips are always well organized and I highly recommend them.

Black-footed Albatrosses are common off the Oregon Coast, and are readily attracted to chumming.

This is a small portion of the flock of Black-footed Albatrosses attracted to our boat. The older birds have white on their heads, while younger birds are darker overall. The smaller birds near the upper left corner are Northern Fulmars.

Pink-footed Shearwaters were the most numerous shearwater species on this trip, with well over 2000 birds seen. Despite their abundance, they seldom got close enough or still enough for a chance at a decent photo.

The rarest bird of the trip was this Flesh-footed Shearwater, which I almost captured in the frame of this photo.

Northern Fulmars will often come very close to the boat. Notice the tube on top of the bird’s bill.

Sabine’s Gulls are easily recognized by their striking wing pattern.

Pacific White-sided Dolphins surfed the boat’s wake.

Of Birding, Computer Pinball, and Insanity

Before shutting down my computer for the night, I sometimes play the video pinball game that came with the machine. Typically, I score about 400,000 points. On rare occasions, I have scored around 4 million points, through no skill or knowledge of my own. Last night, I scored 8,166,000 points, again, through no control on my part.

And what does this have to do with birding? The experience was actually amazingly similar. How many times have you walked through the same patch of woods looking for a bird you haven’t seen before? Experience tells you what species are likely to be at that location, just as experience tells me what my pinball score will likely be. But you keep hoping for something different, and sometimes, you get lucky.

Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. But that is exactly what birders do. We cover the same birding sites over and over, year after year, hoping for something different. It is that hope that keeps us going. If we accepted the likelihood that each trip to a given site will produce the same species, we would be less likely to go into the field. It is the insanity of expecting something different that makes birding such a joy.

I approached this nest box at Hart Mountain with the expectation, or at least hope, of finding a Flamulated Owl. Instead, this large nest box was occupied by a pair of Mountain Chickadees.

Pelagic birding is the epitome of insanity. You cover hundreds of square miles of open ocean, hoping to run across a rare bird that just happens to be at the same spot you are. Here are two Laysan Albatrosses swimming with the abundant Black-footed Albatrosses off the Oregon coast.

Am I insane for engaging in this hobby/sport/avocation/obsession that we know as birding? Heck yes, and loving it.