Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Ashy Storm-Petrel in Oregon

Ashy Storm-Petrel off Newport, Oregon. May 18, 2014. Greg Gillson.
Ashy Storm-Petrel off Newport, Oregon. May 18, 2014. Greg Gillson.
Note gray body, back, and rump, contrastingly darker tail and wings, and deeply forked tail.
Prior to this photographed bird above there have been about 9 reports of Ashy Storm-Petrel from Oregon. Most have been seen from cruise ships about 50 miles offshore in spring and a couple in fall (the only times that cruise ships usually pass by Oregon). Because of the nature of cruise ships these sightings have been very brief and views relatively distant. Brief, distant views do not allow a chance for very thorough observation or photos, so it is no wonder that only two previous sightings were described well enough to be accepted by the Oregon Bird Records Committee.

This bird, observed over a chum slick on a traditional pelagic trip on a 55-foot fishing boat 55 nautical miles W of Newport, Oregon, is the best documented Ashy Storm-Petrel seen in Oregon.

Ashy Storm-Petrel off Newport, Oregon
Note the pale under wing linings and strongly forked tail.

My notes: "extended views lasting about 12 minutes as fed on chum and fish oil slick around boat. Gray bodied storm-petrel with black wings and deeply forked tail. Perhaps same length as Fork-tailed but thinner body and straighter, longer, thinner wings. Looked very long-tailed in flight. Pale carpal bar, pale under wing linings. Flight swooping, direct and twisting, shallow wing beats."

Ashy Storm-Petrel off Newport, Oregon
Note how long the tail appears.

Ashy Storm-Petrel off Newport, Oregon
Ashy Storm-Petrel (right), Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel (left) off Newport, Oregon.

Ashy Storm-Petrel off Newport, Oregon. May 18, 2014. Greg Gillson.
There is no apparent wing molt.
Pale carpal bar does not extend all the way to the leading edge of the wing.

History of Oregon sightings:
August 16, 2005: Seabird expert Peter Pyle reported a single bird 115 miles off Tillamook Co.
May 3, 2007: Schmidt, Gilligan, Wright, the Armstrongs saw 6 birds 45 miles off Coos Co. from a cruise ship. These were accepted by the OBRC as a first Oregon record. Two additional singles in Curry and Douglas by Schmidt were not accepted.
May 8, 2009: Gilligan, Irons, Withgott, et al. spotted a "possible" Ashy from a cruise ship 60 miles off Clatsop Co.
July 14, 2009: The Armstrongs on a cruise ship reported 3 birds 70-100 miles off Curry and Coos Cos. The OBRC found the reports "compelling" but not quite complete enough to accept.
August 31, 2009: Gilligan and Schmidt saw a total of 9 birds 55 miles off southern Oregon from a cruise ship. The OBRC accepted the written description of only 1 of the birds.
May 20, 2011: Gilligan and Schmidt saw 1 bird from a cruise ship 40 miles off Curry Co. [I and several other birders were on this trip when Jeff and Owen called out the bird, but we never even glimpsed it.]

[It should be noted that Gilligan, Schmidt, and Irons are (or have been) on the Oregon Bird Records Committee themselves. Thus, even they felt several of their own sightings, while likely correct, were not well-enough seen or documented to be accepted on the official list of Oregon birds. Often, brief or distant views are not enough to absolutely rule out all other possibilities, no matter how unlikely--a requirement for acceptance by the OBRC, but we can be more lenient here and accept the claims by these experienced observers.]

So, what do we know? There have been several hundred traditional pelagic trips up to 35 miles offshore from Oregon throughout the year. This species has never been seen on upper shelf waters on a traditional pelagic trip. All sightings of Ashy Storm-Petrels in Oregon have been in deep water. It seems that the month of May is best. April and May are the times the cruise ships run repositioning trips offshore in spring. Most sightings have been off the two southernmost Oregon counties--Curry and Coos. This makes sense, as the species breeds in California.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Short-tailed Albatross off Oregon: February 22, 2014

[The following account of the sighting of a SHORT-TAILED ALBATROSS off Oregon last month was written by Tom Snetsinger, one of our long-time seabird guides. Thanks, Tom!]

February 22, 2014 was an unusual day. It is an uncommon winter day when the seas are calm enough to head offshore in search of birds. It is rare when the date we put on the calendar months earlier coincides with one of those. During our brief orientation, we discussed a few of the rarer species we might encounter: Red-legged Kittiwake, Parakeet Auklet, Laysan Albatross. Guides and passengers bundled up, each day-dreaming of their own quarry, headed out to sea aboard Newport Tradewinds’ Misty.

Each pelagic trip has its own unique rhythm, and good numbers of Ancient Murrelets and Cassin’s Auklets flushing from the front of the boat set the pace for this trip as we worked our way offshore. While the ride was a little rough, and it was hard to pick out all of the features on individual birds, most were able to assemble a satisfactory experience from their collage of sightings. Working our way offshore we encountered few albatross. However, a Laysan Albatross did a fly by close to the boat allowing everyone good views, and this experience set the stage for bigger things yet to come. A couple of jaegers also put on a brief show as they chased a kittiwake, but these were merely the hors d'oeuvres preceding a main course that all of us hoped for but none of us really expected.

We continued west, stopping briefly to chum, which allowed us to brush-up on our gull ID skills and appreciate a couple of Thayer’s Gulls among the larids present, but without many birds, we decided to press on. A distant fishing boat to our southwest drew our attention and encouraged us to head that direction in search of other species. A distant flock of fulmars and the occasional albatross encouraged us onward. Then, cries from the bow erupted. Short-tailed Albatross. SHORT-TAILED ALBATROSS! SHORT-TAILED ALBATROSS!! LOOK AT THE BILL!! One could almost feel the boat shift as everyone onboard leapt to the starboard side to appreciate the grandeur of this magnificent bird as it sailed by and, turning into the midday sun, flashed its magnificent bubblegum pink bill like a beacon. Not to rest on its laurels, this gorgeous bird joined us a short while later at an impromptu chum stop, where it swam among a dozen Black-footed Albatrosses, dwarfing its chocolate-colored brethren. Reluctantly, we headed back to port, but enjoying the camaraderie of sharing our fresh memories of another 3-albatross day.

Birders live for these moments, and the image of the bird turning into the sun and flashing that bold, huge, improbable, and awesome bill in the midday sun will stick with me for a longtime. I think everyone aboard can appreciate the good fortune in sharing that experience.

[For another report and photos, see this page by passenger Bob Archer.]

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Laysan Albatross search trip: February 22, 2014

Laysan Albatrosses have been sighted with regularity on our late winter/early spring trips when we travel at least 25 miles offshore. Unfortunately, the last three years we have weathered-out--always a risk with Oregon pelagic trips, especially at this time of year.

Highlights and selected "late winter/early spring" birds from previous similar trips:

March 6, 2010: 2 LAYSAN ALBATROSS, 21 Black-footed Albatross, 2 Short-tailed Shearwater, 118 Black-legged Kittiwake, 8 Thayer's Gull, 33 Ancient Murrelet, 13 Rhinoceros Auklet.

February 21, 2009: 1 LAYSAN ALBATROSS, 10 Black-footed Albatross, 1 Rock Sandpiper (jetty), 159 Black-legged Kittiwake, 50 Thayer's Gull, 2 Glaucous Gull, 26 Ancient Murrelet, 114 Rhinoceros Auklet, 1 HORNED PUFFIN.

March 1, 2008: 8 LAYSAN ALBATROSS, 25 Black-footed Albatross, 1 MANX SHEARWATER, 1 Short-tailed Shearwater, 1 Rock Sandpiper (jetty), 40 Black-legged Kittiwake, 3 Thayer's Gull, 50 Rhinoceros Auklet.

March 25, 2007: 1 LAYSAN ALBATROSS, 60 Black-footed Albatross, 2 Short-tailed Shearwater, 75 Black-legged Kittiwake, 2 Thayer's Gull, 500 Rhinoceros Auklet, 7 HORNED PUFFIN.

March 18, 2006: 4 LAYSAN ALBATROSS, 60 Black-footed Albatross, 1 SHORT-TAILED ALBATROSS, 8 Short-tailed Shearwater, 90 Black-legged Kittiwake, 2 Thayer's Gull, 11 Rhinoceros Auklet.

Cost for this trip is $140 per person (but $125 if you hurry!). Sign up online at:
http://thebirdguide.com/pelagics/