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.

Castaways

While the winter weather pattern along the Oregon Coast, a seemingly endless string of storm systems coming in off the Pacific, is not the most comfortable for birders, it does bring some interesting birds into view. Species that normally spend the winter many miles out at sea are sometimes blown in to shore. This is not always good news for the birds, since it takes them away from their normal food sources and into the range of land-based predators, but it does provide birders an opportunity to see these species that are usually out of reach.

northern fulmarThis Northern Fulmar was swimming right along the shore at The Cove in Seaside (Birding Oregon p. 121). He didn’t seem too perky, so he may have been ill. Fulmars are fairly common sights on pelagic trips, but are not visible from shore too often.

red phalarope rightRed Phalaropes are more commonly blown in during early winter storms. These little shorebirds spend most of the year on the open ocean. It amazes me that such a small bird can survive in such a harsh environment. But when they do occur in the calm waters of tidal ponds and inlets close to shore, they often fall victim to predators, and sometimes cars. This individual was found near the Hammond Boat Basin.

red phalarope front

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.