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.

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.