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: