Monday, December 17, 2012

Mottled Petrel status in Oregon

Mottled Petrel on Oregon pelagic trip
Mottled Petrel. Off Newport, Oregon. December 8, 2012 by Ryan Abe
Our pelagic trip report for December 8, 2012 highlighted a Mottled Petrel that we spotted 20 miles off Newport, Oregon. Most North American birders, including seabirders, are unfamiliar with this species. Indeed, this was a life bird for me and one of several rare seabirds we observed off Oregon in 2012 (see Pelagic Birding: 2012 In Review).

Mottled Petrels are one of the Pterodroma or gadfly petrels, known for their occurrence far offshore and their wild arcing flight (see: So you want to see a Murphy's Petrel?). In the low winds this day, however, this bird was not flying in high bounding flight on set wings. Rather it was flying low, fast, and direct with rapid wing beats. The ID of this species is straight forward. The bird is the size of a small gull (kittiwake-sized) with dark belly patch.

Mottled Petrel on Oregon pelagic trip
Mottled Petrel. Off Newport, Oregon. December 8, 2012 by Ryan Abe

Mottled Petrels breed off New Zealand from October-March. The bulk of the post-breeding movement is diagonally northeast directly through the Central Pacific, past Hawaii, in April-May to the Gulf of Alaska and Aleutians, retracing their route back to New Zealand in October.

On the West Coast, presumed failed or non-breeders are found occasionally in February and March, apparently leading the main migratory northward movement by several months. In recent years, birds have been found more regularly in November-December. These are likely young non-breeding birds trailing the main migratory southward movement by a couple of months. This is not unlike the pattern and timing set by Short-tailed Shearwaters. There are additional scattered records throughout the year.

Although there have been a couple sightings from land during storms off the West Coast, most sightings of Mottled Petrels are far from land. Typical are 9 birds 60 miles off the central Oregon coast on 31 March 1981; 3 individual birds 45 miles off the central and northern Oregon coast on 11 December 1990; 1 bird 14 miles off the southern Oregon coast on 13 December 1999; 21 birds from 31 October to 1 November 2005 from 58 to 169 miles offshore Oregon (Oregon Bird Records Committee).

It appears, then, that the "best" time to find Mottled Petrels from Oregon, Washington, or extreme northern California may be the first half of December. My analysis of weather buoy records off central Oregon reveals that only about 25% of pelagic birding trips using chartered sports fishing boats would be successful in early December--the absolute worst time to try to get offshore during the entire year. Nevertheless, this is absolutely the best time of year to see these rare birds off the West Coast.

We'll probably try again next year to charter a pelagic trip in late November or early December to see Mottled Petrels and other winter seabirds such as Laysan and Short-tailed Albatrosses, Short-tailed Shearwaters, Black-legged Kittiwakes, Parakeet Auklets, and Horned Puffins.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Pelagic birding: 2012 in review

The year 2012 was very successful for pelagic birding for The Bird Guide, Inc. in Oregon waters. We had a couple of trips cancel, but we also had several very calm trips--I think we had only one calm trip the previous two years prior to this year, so we felt due. Unlike last year with no rare pelagic species found, we had several rare birds throughout the year in 2012.

The trips and highlights

The March Perpetua Bank trip weathered out and we failed to get more than 3 signed up for a trip in April. Going forward we will probably schedule only special search trips in spring, not general trips. There is just not enough general interest for spring trips, despite the great birds and rarities found over the years. Too much land-based spring birding competition. This seems typical for all West Coast pelagic trip providers.

Horned Puffin - Greg Gillson
Horned Puffin

All other public trips for the year filled to capacity. That included our May trip for which we extended the duration to 12 hours to reach 45 miles offshore. Rarities included a HORNED PUFFIN offshore 28 miles. A YELLOW-BILLED LOON was discovered in nearshore waters. We were able to circle both birds with the boats and obtain close views and photos.

Yellow-billed Loon - Greg Gillson
Yellow-billed Loon

A private trip in June took a group of home schoolers offshore to see BLACK-FOOTED ALBATROSSES. Such a trip on smaller faster boats are the only way to see albatrosses in a trip of only 5 hours. Other pelagic species included SOOTY and PINK-FOOTED SHEARWATERS, CASSIN'S and RHINOCEROS AUKLETS, 2 TUFTED PUFFINS, and several marine mammals--not bad for such a short trip.

A summer trip in July was set up by the Wings tour company. They had 8 participants and we filled the boat with other public birders. Low numbers of the expected species were seen, including a LONG-TAILED JAEGER.

For the second year in a row we weathered-out on a late July/early August deep water trip. Hot weather inland creates strong north winds and big waves. The trip filled in only a few days when announced in March. So we'll plan again in 2013--this time with a weather date to give us a second chance.

We made it offshore 15 miles on the Charleston, Oregon, Shorebird Festival pelagic trip in late August. We saw the common expected pelagic birds.

Scripps's Murrelet - Greg Gillson
Scripps's Murrelet

Calm seas on our September trip allowed us to see a pair of SCRIPPS'S MURRELETS ahead and slow the boat in time to prevent them from flushing away. A couple of SOUTH POLAR SKUAS were also seen. A MINKE WHALE was the first seen in several years.

Seas were calm again on our early October trip. We tracked down a group of factory processor ships working off a ways to our north and headed there. Good plan! We encountered a LAYSAN ALBATROSS among the swarm of birds at the fishing vessels, while overhead a SHORT-EARED OWL flopped around! Our third rarity of the trip occurred about 20 miles west of Yaquina Head with a fly-by female BROWN BOOBY--only Oregon's 5th record.

Brown Booby - Noah Strycker
Brown Booby

Our late October trip found 9 SHORT-TAILED SHEARWATERS and several hundred CASSIN'S AUKLETS.

We planned a "Laysan Albatross search" trip in November with a weather date in December. We needed the weather date. Our trip went out in fairly calm conditions on December 8. We found our target bird--a single LAYSAN ALBATROSS. As expected, we found 20 SHORT-TAILED SHEARWATERS. We missed Ancient Murrelets, which were reported in good numbers by shore-based birders. Of the 5 or so possible rarities were hoping for, but not really expecting, we spotted the least likely--2 PARAKEET AUKLETS flushed from in front of the boat, and an obliging MOTTLED PETREL flew by our chum stop! Both species are new to The Bird Guide's total pelagic species list seen since 1994--over 150 trips!

Mottled Petrel - Ryan Abe
Mottled Petrel

The birds in 2012 compared to previous years

Arctic nesting seabirds were in alarmingly low numbers during the fall migration. Fall numbers of all 3 JAEGERS were unusually low. Totals for 5 fall trips were 11 POMARINE, 10 PARASITIC, and 1 LONG-TAILED JAEGERS--typically that is what you might expect on one below-average September trip. Amazingly, SABINE'S GULLS, too, were in unprecedentedly low numbers with 30 in July, but only 1 in August and none(!) in September or October. These should be common throughout the fall, perhaps averaging 35+ birds per trip. We had 5 distant unidentified (ARCTIC/COMMON) TERNS in July. One COMMON TERN was on our August Shorebird festival trip. One ARCTIC TERN and 3 COMMON TERNS were spotted on our September trip. Again, very low numbers compared to previous years.

Where were the BULLER'S SHEARWATERS? Our first for the year didn't show up until we saw 4 birds in September, 2 during the early October peak, and 2 on our late October trip. Only 8 total birds on 5 fall trips! We also had one bird on our December 8 trip--very late--but it had an injured wing and could barely fly.

Never common, no Flesh-footed Shearwaters were seen this year (or last year), continuing the trend of lower numbers over the past decade.

The pelagic birding off Oregon in 2012 was truly outstanding!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

A Kaleidoscope of Fulmar Plumages

Northern Fulmar
Dark and light phase Northern Fulmars. Click for larger view.
Northern Fulmars come in a variety of colors and patterns--from dark blackish-brown to various shades of gray, bluish, tan, yellowish, and white,... patterned light, dark, speckled, checkerboard, and plaid (but not yet seen in a barber pole pattern).

On the West Coast, the majority of fulmars are dark phase. These birds are pretty much all dark except for pink feet and thick yellow bill. Many of the birds are dark sooty gray. Older feathers become brownish. Darkest examples can suggest Flesh-footed Shearwaters with their dark chocolate-brown plumage and pale bill. Shearwaters, however, have longer wings, tail, neck, and bill. See the next 3 photos for examples of the darkest birds.

Northern Fulmar
Click to view how some hold their feet above their tail!

Northern Fulmar
Fulmar pretending to be some other all-dark petrel or shearwater!

Northern Fulmar

The vast majority of birds nesting in the Aleutians are dark phase. In contrast, most of the birds on the Siberian side of the Pacific are light phase.

Most birds aren't as dark as that shown above. Many are just plain gray or pattened with new darker gray feathers replacing worn and faded browner feathers as the 2 photos below show.

Northern Fulmar
Note faded brown outer primaries contrasting with new gray ones.
Click for larger view.

Northern Fulmar

Slightly paler, birds such as those in the next 2 photos are a bit paler gray-brown on the body plumage with darker wings. During molt they can be very blotchy and oddly patterned. Older feathers tend to tan, or even with a yellowish cast.

Northern Fulmar
First year bird with relatively fresh flight feathers.

Northern Fulmar
Very worn wings (note feather shafts without barbs on wing).
Atlantic Northern Fulmars have light and dark phases, but none are as extreme--at either end of the spectrum--as Pacific birds. Pacific Fulmars have thinner bills and dark tails rather than white in Atlantic birds.

The birds in the next two photos appear as many do in the Atlantic, gray back and wings and white body (though with dark tails in the Pacific). On the West Coast, however, fewer seem show the strong upper wing pattern as the following bird. The paler the bird, the more strongly the white wing patches seem to contrast.

Northern Fulmar

Northern Fulmar

Especially in winter and spring there are many lighter phased individuals on the West Coast. Few get as white as the birds below, with all white body plumage including most of the back.

Northern Fulmar light phase

Northern Fulmar light phase

Northern Fulmar light phase

Northern Fulmar

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Oregon rare bird: Brown Booby: October 6, 2012

Brown Booby
Brown Booby. Photo by Noah Strycker.
On last weekend's pelagic trip from Newport, Oregon, Russ Namitz spotted a female Brown Booby about 1/2 mile in front of the boat. Noah Strycker got the above photo. Unfortunately, it was quickly a mile away before many in the stern could spot it, and then it was no longer identifiable with binoculars. We were NW of Newport, about 20 miles W of Depoe Bay. (Trip report.)

This is the 5th accepted Oregon record. Here are the previous Accepted records from the Oregon Bird Records Committee.

  • October 3, 1998. 15 miles WSW of Depoe Bay, Lincoln Co. Juvenile. 6 written rare bird reports. (Almost exactly where we saw this bird above, on the same weekend, 14 years earlier!)
  • May 2005. Off Tillamook and Lincoln Cos. Photo.
  • October 26, 2008. Dead on beach. Cape Arago, Coos Co.
  • October 28 to December 8, 2009. Coos Bay, Coos Co. Many photos. Here, and here.
There are three additional reports, not submitted to the OBRC.
July 25, 2005. 20 miles W Winchester Bay, Douglas Co. (2nd hand report)
July 25, 2005. On beach at Seaside, Clatsop Co. (2nd hand report)
November 22, 2009. Seen from Boiler Bay, Lincoln Co. (Good description)

Oregon Bird Records Committee pdf of Accepted records through April 2012.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Scripps's Murrelet

Scripps's Murrelet
Scripps's Murrelet. 20 miles off Newport, Oregon, September 15, 2012.

This past weekend our pelagic trip enjoyed calm seas. The trip generally had low numbers of birds and was mostly unremarkable until... we were able to circle the boat around a pair of these rare birds.

Just this past August the A.O.U. split this murrelet that breeds off southern California from those breeding off Baja. (See the previous post Scripps's and Guadalupe Murrelet.)

This bird is no longer on the Review list of Oregon rare birds. It was removed in 2010. Nevertheless, it is hard to find since it usually stays far offshore. We've seen this species on about 15% of trips, July-October. We would see it far more often if the seas were as smooth as last weekend, but that is usually not the case.

From a show of hands at the time, this was a life bird for nearly all on board except the guides!

You may be interested in our trip report from last weekend.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Short pelagic to see albatrosses

On June 9, 2012 The Bird Guide, Inc. hosted a home school group on a 5-hour pelagic adventure. The goal was to see Black-footed Albatrosses at a most affordable price in the shortest time possible--5 hours.

This is harder than it sounds. Albatrosses feed on the shelf break. Off Newport, Oregon this is offshore at least 20 miles. Our usual boat--which is the largest (55 feet) in Oregon licensed to go far offshore, cruises at about 11 knots (12.1 mph). With at least a half hour in the bay, and perhaps 45 minutes stopped to chum the albatrosses up to the boat, our usual boat didn't allow us enough time to accomplish our goals in 5 hours--in fact, our usual trip took 8 hours and required about 20 minimum passengers. We had only a dozen participants, which would have made our usual boat prohibitively expensive. No, we needed a smaller, faster boat.

We found such a boat with one of our old deck hands who had recently earned his captain's license. This 43 foot boat cruised in excess of 15 knots (16.5 mph). This would get us out over 20 miles and back, plus allow harbor transit time, some near shore time, and chum stop time in a 5 hour trip.

As far as seabird diversity goes, June is probably one of the lowest of the year. Many of our regular fall and spring seabirds are in the Arctic in June where they breed. However, several Oregon seabirds are actually southern hemisphere breeders during December, thus are feeding off Oregon's shore in our summer, but their winter! Our target albatross is one of these birds--they nest in the outer Hawaiian Islands, which are in the northern hemisphere, but keep a breeding schedule identical to all other albatrosses that nest in the southern hemisphere.

Despite this not being a time of spectacular pelagic bird abundance, there were still lots of birds. We saw all expected species except Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel.

Fun birds in the bay included Osprey and Caspian Terns. Three species of cormorants nest around the bridge we traveled under. Western Gulls are the nesting gulls here, though we also saw one Glaucous-winged Gull, too.

Along shore were Pigeon Guillemots, a few Marbled Murrelets, and thousands of Common Murres, which nest nearby on Yaquina Head. There were a few late Common, Pacific, and Red-throated Loons still migrating north. Harbor porpoises put in a brief showing.

Offshore there were scattered Sooty and Pink-footed Shearwaters. A few Dall's porpoises and Pacific white-sided dolphins came alongside the boat. But all-in-all there were few birds. We did manage to see a few Cassin's and Rhinoceros Auklets and circled the boat around an obliging Tufted Puffin.

Our chum stop was 25 miles offshore, where we enticed 6 Black-footed Albatrosses up to the boat to the delight of all. Success!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Guadalupe and Scripps's Murrelets

Scripps's Murrelet. OBRC record 025-07-16. August 25, 2007. Photo by Greg Gillson
The A.O.U. this month published (The Auk 129(3):573-588, 2012) a long-anticipated split of the Xantus's Murrelet that will greatly affect pelagic birders off western North America.

The Scripps's Murrelet (Synthliboramphus scrippsi) is now the name of the former Xantus's Murrelet nesting on the Channel Islands off southern California. Sibley called it the "Northern" Xantus's Murrelet.

The former nominate form of Xantus's Murrelet did not keep its name either, though it does keep its scientific name. Guadalupe Murrelet (Synthliboramphus hypoleucus) is now the name of the former Xantus's Murrelet breeding off Baja California, Mexico. Sibley called it the "Southern" Xantus's Murrelet.

In this post "Xantus's Murrelet" refers to both Scripps's and Guadalupe Murrelet. I know, it's a bit confusing.

While neither of the "new" species are rare in California, that is not the case northward on the West Coast. The Oregon Bird Records Committee (OBRC) dropped Xantus's Murrelet from its Review List in 2010, having determined that this species is now expected annually far offshore in warm water. However, there is one accepted record assignable to the new Guadalupe Murrelet. There are also several reports of this form not reviewed by the Committee. Many of the accepted reports on the Oregon List are not definitely assignable to one or the other of the new species.

Thus, these ambiguous records will need to be assigned by the Records Committee to "Scripps's/Guadalupe Murrelet" and assigned new OBRC numbers. That's not so bad, except for one problem. Because of the similarity of Xantus's Murrelet to Craveri's Murrelet (Synthliboramphus craveri) there is already a "Xantus's/Craveri's Murrelet" on the OBRC list. "Scripps's/Guadalupe/Craveri's Murrelet," anyone? I guess "Synthliboramphus species" might be acceptable, though Ancient Murrelet and Japanese Murrelets are also in the genus Synthliboramphus (hey, I'm starting to get the spelling right without looking!).

OK, a bit of ID. Craveri's Murrelet has dark wing linings and dark chin (very small feathered area above the throat between the forks of the lower bill). The bill is thinner than Xantus's. The lower face is white, the upper face and ear coverts, including the region surrounding the eye, is dark.

The face of Scripps's Murrelet is similar to Craveri's, with the eye in the dark part of the face (often a white wedge in front of the eye, though). Wing linings and chin are white, however. Not that this does any good with birds swimming away, diving, or flying directly away at high speed as they are wont to do. When diving birds pop back to the surface they may flap briefly to dry their wings. Or, when swimming away they may look back over their shoulders and give a quick view of their chin. Adult birds may swim north with their chicks. Thus, if the chick is small enough they may stay in one area, diving rather than flying; you may end up with great views. If the birds get separated they call back and forth.

The face on Guadalupe Murrelet has the eye surrounded by white, making identification easier--as long as you're sure to eliminate the Alaska-breeding Kittlitz's Murrelet!

So, are you familiar with the piping whistle of Pigeon Guillemot? It is a series of notes speeding up and running into a thin drawn out sweeeeer, dropping in pitch at the end. It lasts a good 2 seconds or more. Scripps's Murrelet gives a similar-starting loud rapid call of 6-8 evenly-spaced notes, all on the same pitch. I have actually heard these calls from unseen birds while I was on the upper decks of a cruise ship! Guadalupe and Craveri's Murrelets have a rattly trilled call, quite different. 

Xantus's Murrelets arrive in summer off Oregon with warm blue "tuna" waters (>58F). Off Oregon they are seen on oceanic and nearer slope waters (100-1000 fathoms [200-2000 meters, 600-6000 feet deep]), generally well over 30 miles offshore, depending upon water temperature. July would be a typical early date, most would be gone by early October (OBRC dates June to mid-November).

Most traditional pelagic trips from Oregon go offshore only about 25 miles, which isn't quite far enough for regular encounters. Thus, to best find either of these two "new" species, you must either take a September repositioning cruise on a luxury liner offshore 60 miles, or join a deep water pelagic trip.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Galapagos Shearwater split from Audubon's Shearwater

As per expectations foreseen in Steve Howell's new seabirds book, the A.O.U. published the official split of the Galapagos Shearwater off western Mexico from other forms of Audubon's Shearwaters in the Atlantic.

The Galapagos Shearwater isn't listed or even mentioned in the new National Geographic guide (6th Edition), but the map for Audubon's Shearwater shows the range in western Mexico, which now refers to Galapagos Shearwater.

The Galapagos Shearwater is unlikely to occur in the United States, but seabirders should be aware--just in case!

Make-over to The Bird Guide's Pelagic Site

Screen Shot
It has been 7 years since the last major overhaul of our website.

Since then computer monitors have become shorter and wider. So the 4:3 aspect ratio no longer looked up-to-date. Websites on the new wide-screen (16:9) aspect ratio of most recent monitors looks better with multiple columns.

And I added many more photos to the opening page, showing seabirds and birders enjoying seabirds. It now looks more modern and less spartan--though I am a big fan of clean-looking pages.

I've simplified the pages into a 3-step format: Choose Your Pelagic Trip, Reserve Your Space, and Prepare for Your Trip. It should now be easier to find helpful information, including a new combined Annotated Checklist with Semimonthly Abundance Bar Chart and Recent Sightings Archive--all on one page now instead of three.

Anyway, take a look and see what you think. And if you find any problems, broken links, browser issues, or other things that don't make sense, please let me know so I can fix them. Thanks.

Visit The Bird Guide's Pelagic Birding Trips page.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Increasing seabirds in Gulf of Alaska and decreasing in Southern California?

An interesting article appears on the Marine Ecology Progress Series in the article: Phenology of pelagic seabird abundance relative to marine climate change in the Alaska Gyre by Thompson SA, Sydeman WJ, Santora JA, Morgan KH, Crawford W, Burrows MT (2012).

Part of the abstract states:
Overall, 5 species showed no change, 1 declined, and 9 species as well as all species combined showed increasing abundance. By season, 3 species increased in winter, 7 in late spring, and 6 in late summer. Eight of 15 species showed relationships with our environmental index. Increases in seasonal seabird abundance may be related to lengthening of the ‘growing season’, as demonstrated by temporal temperature shifts and expansion of peak chlorophyll concentrations. Seabirds of the Alaska Gyre are probably responding to changes in forage nekton that are related to this extended growing season by shifting their migration to later dates.
The full text appears in a pdf link. This is one study of several that may point to a redistribution of seabirds (abundance and diversity). It appears there is a trend for fewer seabirds in the Southern California Bight and more birds for a longer portion of the year in the SE Gulf of Alaska.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Oregon pelagic birds: Horned Puffin

pelagic birds

On our May 5th trip we found a Horned Puffin, one of Oregon's rarer pelagic birds, 28 miles off Newport. The bird we found is my photo above. How rare is it? We've run almost 150 pelagic trips since 1994 and this was only the 5th time we've spotted this bird. That's about 3.3%

The Handbook of Oregon Birds (2009) by Herlyn and Contreras has this to say: "Rare to sometimes abundant visitor to the offshore waters of the [northeast] Pacific.... occasionally seen onshore in winter and spring." So, far offshore larger numbers of birds may occur in certain years. But the birds generally occur farther offshore than most traditional pelagic trips, and at seasons where there are fewer pelagic trips scheduled. You might say that the bird itself might not be all that rare in Oregon's offshore waters, but it is rarely seen.

However, also occasionally, a Horned Puffin will be found in summer amid breeding Tufted Puffins on the Oregon coast, but they do not breed in Oregon. So if you wait long enough, and do lots of seawatches, you will possibly see one of these birds from shore in Oregon.

Here, then, are the details of our sightings on our boat tours:
  • April 4, 1998, on a 20-hour trip where we got on the boat at night and were 60 miles offshore from Depoe Bay at dawn, we encountered 2 birds.
  • March 27, 2007 we encountered 7 live and 2 dead Horned Puffins 15-33 miles offshore from Newport. This followed unprecedented numbers of dead puffins (150+) washing up on Oregon's beaches during the winter/spring.
  • August 16, 2008 there was a bird just off the jetties at Newport.
  • February 21, 2009 a couple of people spotted a bird flying away from the boat about 8 miles offshore.
  • May 5, 2012 one bird 28 miles offshore from Newport.
So it is possible to see Horned Puffins on winter or spring pelagic trips from Oregon, especially if the trips travel well beyond 30 miles from shore. But it's not very likely. This species remains one of Oregon's rarer pelagic birds.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Murphy's Petrel, Parakeet Auklet chase trip: May 5

Today's Portland Audubon Rare Bird Alert noted:

An April 17 offshore boat trip about 45 miles off 
Central and southern Oregon found seven MURPHY'S PETRELS, 
PUFFIN among more regular species.
These species were seen from a cruise ship, as we are learning is typical far offshore from mid-April to mid-May. We already have a 10 hour pelagic trip set up for May 5th. Even with this slower charter fishing boat, we can still reach 45 miles offshore and spend over an hour there in a 10 hour trip. 

One of the Murphy's Petrels was off Lane County and one off Lincoln County in the 2 hours the cruise ship was off these counties late in the evening (eBird data). Most of the good birds from the Rare Bird Alert were seen about noon in southern Oregon, only 20 miles offshore, but still in 500 fathoms of water (3000 feet deep), as the cruise ship traveled on the 125 degree W longitude line.

Our pelagic trip is in Lincoln County quite near the Lane County border. It was originally scheduled to chum for seabirds 25 miles off Newport, then head southwest 15 miles to 32 miles off Yachats, staying on the edge of the shelf where seabirds are most abundant. However, with this report, I have decided to chase the Murphy's Petrels and Parakeet Auklets by heading 45 miles straight off Newport to 500 fathoms and spending an hour in "cruise ship lane" waters there. We still expect to see all of the species from our original schedule, except for nearshore species (we'll forgo Marbled Murrelet search near shore, for example).

No guarantees, of course, but Parakeet Auklets are probably better viewed from the smaller boat. We have been out during this time on charter boats without seeing Murphy's or Cook's Petrels or Parakeet Auklets (we have seen Horned Puffins). But usually we only go 25-30 miles offshore to the edge of the shelf at 100-200 fathoms. The cruise ships always stay pretty close to 45 miles offshore from Newport. So we don't really know how close these birds may be. We'll spend pretty close to 5 hours in slope waters of 100-500 fathoms.

I'd make this a 12 hour trip, but we only have 10 passengers right now (16 is break-even to pay for just the boat for 10 hours). But if we can get 5 more passengers I'll bump the hours up to 12. We'll still be going at a loss, but for 2 more hours of deep water birding, I think it's worth it! Cost will remain at $150 per person whether or not we decide to go for 10 or 12 hours. I have to let the charter know right away if I want to change the length, so contact me soon if you want to attend.

As always, sea conditions (wave height and spacing) play a big role on whether the trip even departs. Last week we had excellent seas. This week is a bit rough, which would probably keep us from traveling fast enough to get out as far as we wish. The forecast for next Monday (4 days ahead--as far as NOAA predicts--and mostly unreliable) looks good again.

Other species to expect: Black-footed and perhaps Laysan Albatrosses, Sooty, Pink-footed and perhaps Manx, Short-tailed, and Flesh-footed Shearwaters, Fork-tailed and perhaps Leach's Storm-Petrels, Parasitic, Pomarine, and Long-tailed Jaegers, Red and Red-necked Phalaropes, perhaps Arctic and Common Terns, Sabine's Gull, Rhinoceros and Cassin's Auklets, perhaps Tufted Puffins, perhaps Ancient Murrelets.

Again, Saturday, May 5, $150 per person, 10-12 hours departing at 7 AM from Newport Tradewinds. Sign up on The Bird Guide's pelagic page:

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A final five common Oregon sea birds

Previously we discussed 10 other common birds:
Five common Oregon sea birds and
Five more common Oregon sea birds.

Here are a final five common Oregon sea birds. These are by no means the only birds you will see on a pelagic trip. Rather, you should expect to see most of the 15 species presented in these 3 articles on nearly every trip! It is not unusual for first-time pelagic participants to see a dozen life birds--birds they have never seen before.

Oregon sea birds: Pink-footed Shearwater
Pink-footed Shearwaters are rather common, arriving in spring and remaining until winter. At times they approach within a mile of shore--especially early in the morning--but are usually found 5 to 30 miles offshore.

Oregon sea birds: Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel
Fork-tailed Storm-Petrels are found spring through fall. They nest along the Oregon coast on offshore islands. They remain in their nest burrows during the day, and only come and go at night, spending several days far offshore before returning to their nestling. Thus, very few people have seen these birds from shore. On our trips they are found from 10-55 miles offshore.

Oregon sea birds: Parasitic Jaeger
Parasitic Jaegers are loners, harassing gulls and terns to steal a meal. This is the jaeger most likely to be seen from shore, especially in the fall when they may mercilessly chase small gulls, terns, or shorebirds just offshore before winging back out to sea. These can be found 50 miles offshore in migration, but are most likely to be found within 20 miles of shore.

Oregon sea birds: Common Murre
Common Murres nest abundantly on the Oregon coast. In summer they fly back and forth from their nest colonies--bringing a single fish to their lone nestling--where thousands of birds nest shoulder to shoulder on the tops of flat offshore sea stacks. They are usually found within 8 miles of shore, but in winter can be found out much farther. Most visiting birders to the Oregon coast have seen this species from shore.

Oregon sea birds: Rhinoceros Auklet
Rhinoceros Auklets are on the target list of visiting birders to the Oregon coast. These birds are found on nearly every trip from nearshore off about 20 miles or so. From certain headland locations with a powerful spotting scope you may see these birds from land. But these glimpses of distant birds bobbing on the water or flying away are rarely as good as the views on a pelagic trip.

Come and see the interesting Oregon sea birds found offshore. Visit The Bird Guide's pelagic birding web pages to reserve your spot to view Oregon sea birds.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Squidoo lens for Oregon Seabirds Pelagic Bird Tours

In order to attempt to reach a larger audience of potential pelagic birders I have created a Squidoo lens (

Squidoo is an eclectic online publishing and advertising site. But it ranks well in the search engines. So I thought I'd put up a page and select the keywords that don't already rank well for The Bird Guide Inc.'s web site. The goal is to find more pelagic birders for our trip, as we've had to cancel a trip already this spring for lack of signup.

 The one thing is, though, that in order to get submitted to the search engines it has to reach a certain level of internal traffic first. Like getting the experience necessary to get your first job, it is a bit of a Catch 22. So you have to promote it yourself for a while before it catches on. This is my attempt. Take a look if you're so inclined and let me know what you think of Squidoo or my lens there.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Five more common Oregon sea birds

Here are five more common Oregon sea birds that you will very likely see on your next pelagic trip.

Previous article: (Five common Oregon sea birds)
Oregon sea bird: Northern FulmarNorthern Fulmars are gull-like tubenosed sea birds. They are common from early fall to early spring. Though sometimes seen from shore in late fall, they are most often encountered more than 20 miles offshore with the albatrosses.

Oregon sea bird: Sooty ShearwaterSooty Shearwaters are Oregon's most abundant sea bird. They arrive in March and remain through October. They may sometimes be seen feeding on bait fish near shore and from shore, even within the mouth of the Columbia River. Usually, however, most birds are between 5 and 20 miles from shore.

Oregon sea bird: Pomarine JaegerPomarine Jaegers are the most frequently seen of Oregon's jaegers. They are common spring and fall migrants. Often seen singly, they are most common from 10-25 miles offshore, where they harass smaller birds into giving up their most recent meal.

Oregon sea bird: Arctic TernArctic Terns migrate far offshore, usually over 20 miles from shore to hundreds of miles offshore. This keeps them out beyond most of the bigger Pomarine Jaegers and gulls. They are rather rare in late spring, and uncommon from July to mid-September.

Oregon sea bird: Cassin's AukletCassin's Auklets are found from near shore to about 25 miles offshore. A few nest along the Oregon coast, but they are most common from August through March.

Visit The Bird Guide's pelagic birding web pages to reserve your spot to view sea birds in Oregon.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Pelagic bird photography

A new article by Abe Borker on discusses the challenges of pelagic bird photography.

One of the topics Borker covers is the challenge of finding powerful compositional elements other than birds flying against the empty sky or sitting in the water. Breaking waves, other birds, the rising sun, or landscapes at the horizon can all add to the artistic appeal of your photographs. He also suggests trying extreme close-ups as a way to add variety to your photography session.

Choose a trip for your next pelagic bird photography session!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Five common Oregon sea birds

What kind of sea birds will you enjoy on your Oregon ocean bird watching tours? Here are five common Oregon sea birds that you can expect to see on your pelagic birding boat trip.

Oregon sea birds: Black-footed Albatross
Black-footed Albatrosses are crowd-pleasers. They soar in on 6-7 foot wing spans and land next to the boat to seek food scraps. They are seen nearly every trip offshore at least 20 miles and are common from March through October.

Oregon sea birds: Buller's Shearwater
Buller's Shearwaters are one of the most beautifully-patterned seabirds. Gliding gracefully over the sea alone, or flapping in amazing synchronized flight in a flock, these are a delight to see. They are only found in the autumn, however, from late August into October.

Oregon sea birds: Red-necked Phalarope
Red-necked Phalaropes are tiny little shorebirds that swim in the ocean! Each spring and fall huge numbers migrate on nearshore waters back and forth from the Arctic tundra, generally within 15 miles of shore. You may see these occasionally on bays and inland ponds, too.

Oregon sea birds: Sabine's Gull
Sabine's Gulls in breeding plumage with black hoods are a joy to see in spring, primarily more than 15 miles offshore. The wing is highly patterned on juveniles coming back from the Arctic in fall.

Oregon sea birds: Pigeon Guillemot
Pigeon Guillemots are nearshore birds, rarely found more than 5 miles offshore. They nest all along the Oregon coast. These are one of the first and last birds you'll see on your pelagic trip, often right near the boat docks.

Visit The Bird Guide's pelagic birding web pages to reserve your spot to view Oregon seabirds.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Today's article on Petrels in Scientific American

Petrels squirting oil. Why? How? And what's oil doing in a bird anyway?

Plus more natural history of petrels.

Posted today (March 14, 2012)

Living the pelagic life: of oil, enemies, giant eggs and telomeres (petrels part II)

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

What is the world's smallest shearwater?

Hint #1: It is smaller than the Audubon's Shearwater.

Hint #2: It is littler than the Little Shearwater.

Hint #3: It has been found in the United States.

Hint #4: It was recently described to science.

The world's smallest shearwater is Bryan's Shearwater (Puffinus bryani).

If you haven't heard the story of the Bryan's Shearwater, it bears repeating.

A small shearwater was discovered and collected in 1963 from a nest burrow in a Bonin Petrel colony on Midway Atoll (a territory of the US, midway between Asia and North America, and 1/3 of the way between Honolulu and Tokyo). It was originally identified as the first record for Little Shearwater in the Hawaiian Islands.

Seabirder Peter Pyle recently re-analyzed the specimen trying to determine what subspecies it may be. Instead, he discovered that it was smaller than any Little Shearwater, but colored more like the larger Audubon's Shearwater. Likewise, DNA analysis found that it was closely related to these other shearwater groups, but didn't fit neatly into any one of them. Thus, in 2011 Pyle et al. proposed a new species.

That is interesting in itself. And in over 40 years no other Bryan's Shearwaters were found on well-studied Midway, or anywhere else... until 1997.

During subsequent years, a total of 6 small shearwaters were captured on various islands in the Ogasawara island chain. Just a few weeks after Pyle published his paper naming the new species from Midway, DNA analysis revealed that these Japanese birds were also Bryan's Shearwaters! Japanese scientists believe there may be several hundred birds on these islands. They remained undiscovered so long because these shearwaters evidently breed in winter when seas are unfavorable for visiting these small islands.

Monday, March 5, 2012

What in the world is an Ardenna shearwater?

In Steve Howell's new seabird guide, Petrels, Albatrosses, and Storm-Petrels of North America: A Photographic Guide, he notes that seabird taxonomy is in a state of flux. He goes on to call the classification of the American Ornithologitsts' Union "particularly anachronistic." Calling out North America's most influential ornithological society as 'behind the times' is probably only something Howell could do.

Since there wasn't any single authoritative "modern" taxonomy to North American seabirds, Howell read all the scientific papers and chose a logical taxonomy. Thus, when you read his book, you'll find new species, genera, and even families of seabirds!

Howell's book divides shearwaters into 3 genera instead of the usual 2 to which we have been accustomed.

The shearwater genus Calonectris is applied to the Cory's-like shearwaters, those that are brownish with yellow bills: Cory's, Scopoli's, Cape Verde, and Streaked shearwaters.

All the world's remaining shearwaters traditionally have been combined into the genus Puffinus. Howell, is the first to create a North American field guide that separates the remaining shearwaters into the smaller black-and-white shearwaters (remaining in the genus Puffinus) from the larger shearwaters in the genus Ardenna, suggested by Penhallurick and Wink in a 2004 article in the Emu and adopted in many Australian bird lists and websites. British and American ornithological societies have yet to adopt this proposal. But now that Howell has introduced this guide you are sure to see more of this new taxonomy.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

New Seabird guide to North America!

Petrels, Albatrosses, and Storm-Petrels of North America. 2012. Steve N.G. Howell.

This highly anticipated field guide is essential for seabirders.

My full review is on the Pacific NW Birder blog.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

"Winter" pelagic trip: March 10, 2012

Winter seas off Oregon are frequently too rough for pelagic trips. Fortunately, though, winter birds continue into spring.

So, such winter specialties such as LAYSAN ALBATROSSES, SHORT-TAILED SHEARWATERS, and ANCIENT MURRELETS are regular in March, when seas average a bit calmer.

March is also the peak of abundance of BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKES and RHINOCEROS AUKLETS.

Several rare species have also been found in March, including SHORT-TAILED ALBATROSSES, FLESH-FOOTED SHEARWATERS, MANX SHEARWATERS, and HORNED PUFFINS.

So, our first trip of the year is a "winter" trip on Saturday, March 10, 2012.

Since 2001, we've scheduled 11 trips in March. Of those, two trips weathered-out, and one trip was shortened due to rough seas. That's a success rate of about 77%, which isn't that different from our September and October success rates.

Here are the frequencies and high numbers for the target species in March:

SpeciesFrequencyHigh number
Short-tailed Albatross22%1
Laysan Albatross78%8
Short-tailed Shearwater78%10
Flesh-footed Shearwater33%1
Manx Shearwater22%2
Black-legged Kittiwake100%225
Ancient Murrelet67%33
Rhinoceros Auklet100%500
Horned Puffin22%7

April has more birds overall, as migration starts up. But SHORT-TAILED SHEARWATER is significantly less likely in April as compared to March. Nevertheless, you may want to consider our April 7, 2012 trip as having a good chance for several of the winter specialties, too. Visit The Bird Guide, Inc.'s web page to sign up for this pelagic trip.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

ABA Pelagic Directory 2012

For many years the January/February issue of Winging It, the newsletter of the American Birding Association, was entirely dedicated to listing North American pelagic trips and schedules. In recent years they moved the pelagic directory to the ABA web site.

I received news recently that the ABA will not produce a pelagic directory in 2012. They may bring it back in 2013. So, what to do?

Well, I invite all pelagic trip providers, bird clubs, or individuals, to list their trips and contact info in the comments section below.

In addition, here are the web sites for major NA providers:

The Bird Guide Oregon--that's us!
Westport Seabirds Washington State
Shearwater Journeys Monterey and California
Monterey Seabirds Monterey Southern California and Baja
Seabirding North Carolina with Brian Patteson
See Life Paulagics New York, New Jersey, Delaware

What pelagic trips will you attend this year?

Our 2012 pelagic trip schedule is posted and ready for signup!

Use the seabird abundance bar chart to determine when your target birds are most likely, then choose from these pelagic trips from Oregon:

March 10, 8 hours from Newport
April 7, 8 hours from Newport
May 5, 10 hours from Newport
July 21, 8 hours from Newport
August 11, 12 hours from Newport
August 25, 5 hours from Charleston
September 15, 8 hours from Newport
October 6, 10 hours from Newport
October 20, 8 hours from Newport

Visit our web site for more details and sign up for our pelagic trips.