Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Short-tailed Albatross breeding at Midway!

Short-tailed Albatross off Oregon in 2006 by Troy Guy
The photo above is of a young bird, 1 or 2 years old. These all-dark immature birds are what we expect off the West Coast of North America. This is the 9th accepted Oregon record of a bird off Newport, Oregon on March 18, 2006. Photo by Troy Guy.

Exciting news! A pair of Short-tailed Albatrosses is breeding on Midway Atoll! This is the first modern breeding record outside of Japan.

The US Fish & Wildlife Service has had decoys up on Midway Atoll NWR and been playing Short-tailed Albatross calls for several years. A pair of Short-tailed Albatrosses has visited the island annually for 4 years, and this year started incubating an egg in November.

Once numbering perhaps 5 million, these magnificent birds were killed on their nests and plucked and stuffed into pillows and mattresses until they were presumed extinct. In the first quarter of the 20th century perhaps only 10 pairs remained. They have since recovered to some 2400 birds.

Check out the news item and photos on the USFWS Flicker site.

With the above news of breeding on Midway, perhaps we can expect to see more of these in the future. Of course, it will take decades to notice the increase from this site, and most of the birds will probably still forage north in the Aleutians. But there is every reason for long-term hope that these birds will continue to recover.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Trip results: Perpetua Bank, October 2, 2010

Saturday, October 2, 2010
11 hours Perpetua Bank trip
From Newport, Oregon, offshore to 32 miles, south 10 miles to Perpetua Bank chum stop, then port

Seas: Fair; mild winds.

Boat: Misty
Captain Robert Waddell
Newport Tradewinds Charter

The Bird Guide, Inc.

Guides: Greg Gillson, Tim Shelmerdine, Russ Namitz

We had a fun trip offshore from Newport this past Saturday. This was the final pelagic trip of the year.

Highlights include a couple of ANCIENT MURRELETS nearshore on both outgoing and returning segments of our trip. For the second trip in a row, we've had FLESH-FOOTED SHEARWATERS come into our chum slick. On this day, one bird to each slick, about 15 miles (and over an hour) apart. Four SOUTH POLAR SKUAS and a flock of about 400 FORK-TAILED STORM-PETRELS were nice.

My photos of this trip are at:

There aren't too many bird photos; 5 of the 11 photos are breaching HUMPBACK WHALES! Skies were overcast for most of the day, making viewing conditions excellent in all directions, but making for dull photography...

Species list:

Northern Pintail 20
Green-winged Teal 2
Greater Scaup 1
Surf Scoter 139
White-winged Scoter 33
Red-breasted Merganser 3
Red-throated Loon 1
Pacific Loon 3
Common Loon 18
Red-necked Grebe 1 (bay)
Western Grebe 10
Black-footed Albatross 39
Northern Fulmar 37
Pink-footed Shearwater 111
Flesh-footed Shearwater 2
Buller's Shearwater 21
Sooty Shearwater 50
Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel 400
Brown Pelican 36
Brandt's Cormorant 46
Double-crested Cormorant 35 (bay)
Pelagic Cormorant 72
Red-necked Phalarope 99
Red Phalarope 16
Sabine's Gull 21
Heermann's Gull 4
Mew Gull 2 (bay)
Western Gull 48
California Gull 155
Herring Gull 6
Glaucous-winged Gull 3 (bay)
Common Tern 1
South Polar Skua 4
Pomarine Jaeger 12
Parasitic Jaeger 16
Common Murre 60
Pigeon Guillemot 6
Marbled Murrelet 4
Ancient Murrelet 5
Cassin's Auklet 60
Rhinoceros Auklet 40
Tufted Puffin 2

Ocean Sunfish 10
Humpback Whale 4
Gray Whale 1
Harbor Porpoise 1
Dall's Porpoise 8
Pacific White-sided Dolphin 8
Steller's Sea Lion 8
California Sea Lion 10 (plus 100+ on breakwater in bay)
Harbor Seal 3 (bay)
Northern Fur Seal 1

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Trip results: Perpetua Bank, Oregon, 11 September 2010

Pelagic trip report:
Saturday, September 11, 2010
11 hours
From Newport, Oregon, to 30 miles west of Newport, then south 10 miles to the seaward slope of Perpetua Bank.

Seas: gentle seas, winds 10 knots.

Boat: Misty
Captain Robert Waddell
Newport Tradewinds Charter

The Bird Guide, Inc.

Guides: Greg Gillson, Tim Shelmerdine, Shawneen Finnegan, Russ Namitz, David Mandell

A great trip with good seas, soft breeze, and lots of birds and marine mammals in view constantly throughout the day.

Highlights included high numbers of Pink-footed Shearwaters, Buller's Shearwaters, Sabine's Gulls, South Polar Skuas, and Humpback Whales. The Flesh-footed Shearwater views (photo above) were better than any we've had in 10 years. Alcid numbers were low.

Cheryl Welchel posted photos here:

My photos:

Species list:

Green-winged Teal 1
Surf Scoter 60
White-winged Scoter 7
Red-throated Loon 2
Black-footed Albatross 135
Northern Fulmar 45
Pink-footed Shearwater 2300
Flesh-footed Shearwater 1
Buller's Shearwater 225
Sooty Shearwater 75
Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel 80
Brown Pelican 12 (bay)
Brandt's Cormorant 100 (40 in bay)
Double-crested Cormorant 25 (bay)
Pelagic Cormorant 40 (20 in bay)
Wandering Tattler 2 (jetty)
Black Turnstone 2 (jetty)
Surfbird 8 (jetty)
Red-necked Phalarope 60
Red Phalarope 8
Sabine's Gull 250 (all adult except for 2-3 juvenile)
Heermann's Gull 15 (bay)
Mew Gull 5 (bay)
Western Gull 120 (70 in bay)
California Gull 120 (40 in bay)
Glaucous-winged Gull 1 (bay)
Olympic Gull (Glaucous-winged x Western) 5 (bay)
Common Tern 5
South Polar Skua 12
Pomarine Jaeger 18
Parasitic Jaeger 2
jaeger (undetermined species) 3
Common Murre 120 (most parent/chick pairs)
Pigeon Guillemot 15
Marbled Murrelet 10
Cassin's Auklet 15
Rhinoceros Auklet 15

Gray Whale 2
Humpback Whale 20
Pacific White-sided Dolphin 20
Dall's Porpoise 8
Harbor Porpoise 20
Northern Fur Seal 2
Northern Elephant Seal 2
California Sea Lion 170 (150 in bay)
Steller's Sea Lion 8
Harbor Seal 8 (bay)

Blue Shark 2
Salmon Shark 1
Soupfin Shark 2
Ocean Sunfish 7

Greg Gillson
The Bird Guide, Inc.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Trip results: August 14, 2010 Perpetua Bank

Saturday's pelagic trip went out of Newport, Oregon in somewhat foggy and cool conditions (55F).

Typical early fall seabirds included good numbers of FORK-TAILED STORM-PETRELS, RED-NECKED PHALAROPES, and SABINE'S GULLS. Other August specialties included LONG-TAILED JAEGERS and ARCTIC TERNS.

It is now possible to use web-based AIS to locate commercial fishing vessels the morning of our trip to see if any are in range. On this day we located 2 hake fishing boats exactly on our Perpetua Bank chum stop location, so headed there first. Most of the albatrosses and fulmars were here. After an hour or so with no new birds we headed out to 400 fathoms just west of 125W, about 40 miles west of Waldport.

Trip guides were Tim Shelmerdine, Tom Snetsinger, Shawneen Finnegan, Russ Namitz, and Greg Gillson.

Surf Scoter 20
White-winged Scoter 6
Red-throated Loon 1
Pacific Loon 5
Black-footed Albatross 200
Northern Fulmar 75
Pink-footed Shearwater 55
Sooty Shearwater 20
Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel 110
Pelagic Cormorant 80
Brandt's Cormorant 100
Double-crested Cormorant 15
Brown Pelican 8
Bald Eagle 1
Wandering Tattler 1 (seen by few)
Black Turnstone 6
Surfbird 4
Red-necked Phalarope 300
Red Phalarope 1 (seen by few)
California Gull 50
Western Gull 50
Sabine's Gull 40
Heermann's Gull 10
Arctic Tern 3
Common Murre 250
Pigeon Guillemot 30
Marbled Murrelet 11
Cassin's Auklet 2
Rhinoceros Auklet 10
Pomarine Jaeger 1
Parasitic Jaeger 2
Long-tailed Jaeger 5

Northern Fur Seal 1
Northern Elephant Seal 1
Steller's Sea Lion 3
California Sea Lion 2
Harbor Seal 3

Blue Shark 1
Salmon Shark 1
Ocean Sunfish 2

Some photos:

Birders watching albatrosses

Red-necked Phalarope

Black-footed Albatross

Black-footed Albatrosses and Northern Fulmars

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Trip report: 29 April – 2 May, 2010: Long Beach, CA to Vancouver, BC

[I received the report below from Ryan Merrill and pass it on for your enjoyment (or envy).]

Gadflies Galore
Offshore Seabird Survey – Repositioning Cruise, MS Amsterdam
Long Beach, CA to Vancouver, BC
29 April – 2 May, 2010

Kevin Aanerud, Todd Hass, Ryan Merrill, Adam Sedgley, and Michael Willison
Joined part of the time by Don & Sandi McVay, and Randy Bjorklund

We went on a Holland America cruise from Long Beach to Vancouver which included two days offshore. The sold-out ship was the 780-foot, 1,380-passenger MS Amsterdam. Seas were quite rough the first day, with 18-27 foot swells and 35+kt winds. Many on the ship were sick, but the birding, for those of us who were able, was wonderful. With the conditions and layout of the ship, our group-size worked well. It would have been difficult to find a calm viewpoint with many more people, though in calmer conditions it wouldn’t be an issue. Viewing was from 60-80 feet above sea level with binoculars and telescopes.

We completed consecutive 20-minute surveys during daylight hours of the two days spent offshore. On Day One we were 30-45 miles offshore, from San Luis Obispo to Point Arena. On Day Two we were 30-60 miles offshore, from southern Oregon to the Olympic Peninsula in Washington. The transect data will be entered into eBird for anyone who is interested in more specific locations of the birds. Documentation of review species will be sent to the appropriate committees.

Two day totals:

Greater Scaup – 3
Pacific Loon – 2
Laysan Albatross – 1 – Lane County, OR
Black-footed Albatross – 53
Northern Fulmar – 52
Murphy’s Petrel – 61 – mostly off OR but seen in all three states. They generally approached the ship more closely than the Cook’s Petrels did. The white chin was seen on many of them, as was the prominent M pattern on the back and the silvery under-wing flash that extended up the trailing edge of the wing toward the secondaries.
Dark Pterodroma sp. – 10, two were not Murphy’s but neither was identified to species. One “menacing”, “big-boned” bird off CA we watched for 15+ seconds while it soared 60-100 feet above sea level, it was amazing to watch despite not knowing its identity, and the only bird we saw above the horizon line the entire first day. The other was off OR and bulkier than Murphy’s, but other than being quite dark, no plumage characteristics were seen despite watching for several arcs.
Mottled Petrel – 2, Grays Harbor County, WA, Kevin, Todd & Adam saw.
Cook’s Petrel – 232 – the first, last, and most abundant species of the first day. Seen on every twenty-minute transect!
Hawaiian/Galapagos (Dark-rumped) Petrel – 2 – CA, one seen fairly well by all and identified as such in the field. The other was observed as a large white-bellied, dark-backed gadfly petrel – distant photos of it show coloration consistent with Hawaiian/Galapagos including dark cap and nape.
White-bellied Pterodroma sp. – 2 – large, consistent with Hawaiian
Pink-footed Shearwater – 26
Sooty Shearwater – 195
Short-tailed Shearwater – 3 – OR & WA
White-bellied tubenose sp. – 6 – three were possible Manx Shearwaters
Dark tubenose sp. – 7
Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel – 45 – 40 were in a raft at dusk off WA
Leach’s Storm-Petrel – 363 – all but 4 were off OR & WA
Ashy Storm-Petrel – 2 – Dark-rumped storm-petrels that appeared to be this species. Ryan saw the first one close and well for 5+ seconds. Kevin saw the second briefly but well, while Todd, Adam, and Ryan just glimpsed this bird. Both Grays Harbor County, WA
Red-necked Phalarope – 6
Red Phalarope – 1732
Phalarope sp. – 82
California Gull – 2
Herring Gull – 5
Western Gull – 41
Glaucous-winged Gull – 1
Gull sp. – 18
Sabine’s Gull – 322
Arctic Tern – 13
Pomarine Jaeger – 7
Parasitic Jaeger – 8
Long-tailed Jaeger – 19
Jaeger sp. – 7
Common Murre – 4
Cassin’s Auklet – 72
Parakeet Auklet – 26 – CA, OR & WA
Rhinocerous Auklet – 176
Tufted Puffin – 4 – CA & WA
Alcid sp. – 46 – 20 were likely Parakeets, 9 were likely Rhinos

The big mammal highlight was a group of six Baird’s Beaked Whales off Lincoln County, OR. Other mammals include Fin Whale (OR), Sperm Whale (OR), Humpback Whale, Short-beaked Common Dolphin (near Long Beach), Dall’s Porpoise, Bottlenose Dolphin (Long Beach Harbor), Killer Whale, and Northern Fur Seal.

Repositioning cruises

For several years now, a small group of birders has been taking cruise ships off the West Coast and watching some fantastic seabirds in comfort and luxury at a discount price.

In summer the big cruise ships travel 8-14 days from Vancouver, British Columbia to Ketchikan and other Alaskan ports. In winter they cruise from Long Beach, California to the "Mexican Riviera" (Mazatlan and Puerto Villarta). These trips have all the amenities--shows, staterooms, food, drink, music, spas, art shows, fancy dinners--really, they are self-contained floating casinos.

In spring, each boat must depart Long Beach and head to its new home in Vancouver. In the fall, the course is reversed. These repositioning cruises are 3-4 days and travel 60 miles offshore--the perfect place for deep water seabirding! The prices are exceptionally reasonable. In fact, the cost of such a trip (including air-fare) is often less than 3 day-long pelagic trips, when you figure in travel costs, restaurants, and a motel for 3 nights.

If you choose your trip carefully, you can plan to be offshore during daylight hours nearly anywhere on the West Coast. Rise at dawn and have the ship to yourself for several hours, as the last late-night partiers are just stumbling off to bed.

You watch birds generally from a covered deck on about the 7th floor of most ships. Bring your scope, it is smooth and the view is an ocean panorama (see photo above from September 2007). The very bow of the ship, from where you watch, may be more than a hundred feet forward of the bow wake, thus it is very quiet and relaxing.

For more photos of the trip I took, see:

Monday, May 10, 2010

Trip results: May 1, 2010

A lone Black-footed Albatross during a brief shower. Photo by Greg Gillson.
Our Perpetua Bank pelagic trip went out in bumpy seas.

Bird species were typical for the time of year. Highlights included 9 LONG-TAILED JAEGERS and a mother and calf HUMPBACK WHALE.

The trip report is here.

More trip photos are here.

Additional photos from passenger Andy Hoffman are here.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Trip results: March 6, 2010

Success! Our annual February/March "winter" Perpetua Bank trip was again successful at finding Laysan Albatrosses. This trip we had two different birds approach the boat, including at our chum stop, allowing for great views and photos.

This trip in February or March is likely the most reliable in the continental US for finding Laysan Albatrosses on a single-day pelagic trip. In the past 11 winters we have had 9 of these Laysan Albatross search trips make it out. Of these, all but one trip located Laysan Albatrosses.

These are also great trips for seeing Black-legged Kittiwakes, Thayer's Gulls, and Rhinoceros Auklets. Short-tailed Shearwaters and Ancient Murrelets are usually spotted, but don't always give good views.

The trip report is here.

Other photos from this trip are here.

Saturday, January 16, 2010


Seabird enthusiasts are sure to find an article published in October 2009 very interesting.

The complete article on the web is entitled: "From the Eye of the Albatross: a Bird-Borne Camera Shows an Association between Albatrosses and a Killer Whale in the Southern Ocean.

Figure 1 shows several photographs from the camera attached to this Black-browed Albatross showing it following behind other albatrosses in flight, an encounter with a Killer Whale, approaching a fishing vessel, and flying near an iceberg.

Neat stuff!

Another Brown Booby from Oregon

Perhaps missed in the excitement of the Coos Bay Brown Booby from October 28 to November 28+, was another report of Brown Booby in November. Phil Pickering did a seawatch on a blustery day at Boiler Bay, about 100 miles north of Coos Bay. While the Coos Bay Brown Booby was still being reported there, Phil spotted another female-plumaged Brown Booby on November 22, 2009 from Boiler Bay.

Pickering's report was:
"Seen briefly in front of squall <1/2 mile at ~9:20, drifting slowly S 40-50 feet above the water over a small feeding group of Pelicans/gulls. Recognized immediately by unmistakable shape - 2/3 size of Pelican with long comparatively slender body, long neck, long evenly tapered bill, and very long obviously wedge-shaped dark tail. Upperparts entirely dark brown, belly white, complete solidly dark brown hood extending to lower breast, sharply delineated from white belly. Underwing/bill color didn't register."

Amazingly, during this same seawatch, a Laysan Albatross also soared by about 1 mile offshore. This is species is rarely reported from shore.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Bird finding: Rock Sandpiper

A Rock Sandpiper poses for photos on a barnacle-encrusted jetty rock at Tillamook's Barview Jetty. Photo 17 January 2009 by Greg Gillson.
One highly sought after bird on the Oregon coast is Rock Sandpiper. "Is it too early to see one?" is a question I hear from many fall pelagic participants.

Rock Sandpipers have been recorded as early as late August. The latest departure date has been mid May. So, no, it's not too early in August or September. It's just not likely. Most birds are found along the Oregon coast from late October into March.

Habitat requirements are fairly stringent and not always safely birded. This slate-colored bird works the rocky intertidal zone, blending in with its habitat inches above the crashing surf.

On the central Oregon coast is perhaps one of the more reliable places to find this bird, just 10 miles south of Newport at Seal Rock State Wayside. The best place to try is 1/4 mile south of the park entrance at a pullout overlooking some large rocks at the end of the beach.

View Larger Map

This area is best at high tide, when the rocks farther offshore are submerged and the birds are forced closer to shore. It is possible for the agile to clamber down the rocks to the beach, but this is not recommended--especially if the rocks are wet.

Another place to look is on the north coast at Barview Jetty, the north jetty of Tillamook Bay. Drive through Barview Jetty Park (no fee needed). The jetty at low tide is sometimes navigable for a ways. Again, the footing on wet rocks is treacherous. Sneaker waves could sweep across the jetty at any time. If seas are particularly rough, the birds may actually be up the bay slightly, near the Coast Guard tower. The bird photographed above was located as indicated on the map below.

View Larger Map

There are two strategies to use to see these birds. First, they often loosely associate with flocks of Surfbirds and Black Turnstones. Watch for them to all fly out occasionally as they are wont to do. Then look for the smaller Dunlin-like bird flying out with them.

Secondly, scan along with the incoming waves. These birds feed right along the waterline and the waves often flush them a few feet up the jetty rocks before the wave passes and they scurry down again.