Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Westport Pelagic

Westport Pelagic
Date: 26-29th September 2008
            A three-day trip down to Westport for another pelagic produced lifers for both Lori and I, and a mega rarity that must be considered a once-in-a-lifetime bird! We left Vancouver Island at 12:30 p.m. from Swatz Bay after missing our spot on the 6:30 a.m. Port Angeles ferry. It was our fault, as we didn't think we needed to make a reservation on the early boat. We were wrong, and it was only the start of a very long day. After nearly two hours at the US customs, we finally got on the I-5 and hit every traffic jam from Bellingham to Olympia! We arrived in Westport at about 8:00 p.m., ate and crashed out. We were up at 5:00 a.m. the following morning and down at the boat by 6:20 a.m. With our motion sickness ear patches working their magic, we got ourselves comfortable, breathed in the sweet morning sea air and awaited the first tubenose.

            It was only about twenty minutes until the first of four lifers popped up in front of us: Cassin’s Auklet! Though this is a regular bird on most of the trips, we had previously missed it, only one had been seen but, alas, we did not get on it quick enough. No matter, on this trip Cassin’s Auklet were popping up all over; with great looks at them in flight and on the water. Pink-footed Shearwater, Sooty Shearwater and Parasitic Jaeger kept us on our toes until the first Black-footed Albatross arrived. There were lots of oooohhhs and aaahhhhs, and righly so. Everyone on board enjoyed seeing these charismatic nomads of the ocean glide by            effortlessly, watching us with almost quizzical smiles.
Black-footed Albatross

Cassin's Auklet
            Someone screaming Buller’s Shearwater snapped me out of my transfixed state at watching these graceful giant seabirds. Buller's Shearwater was lifer number two for this trip and a much sought after one at that.
            Time ticked by; everyone settled in to the rhythm of the boat until we reached the edge of the continental shelf, about 40 miles west of the main land, where we stopped and chummed for a while. Fork-tailed Storm Petrel arrived and daintily pirouetted across in front of us. Shortly after, a slightly more ominous character graced us with its presence. I, for one, was a very happy camper: Long-tailed Jaeger! Before going on this trip, I tried to dismiss this sleek pirate of the sea from my psychological wish list, knowing it was well past peak time for them. I failed miserably and new I would secretly pout when I dipped out. However, only tears of joy would be spilled on this trip, and the fact that this bird was an adult in breeding plumage made it all the more exceptional.     
            If only I could relive the moments that followed the jaeger sighting. It went a little like this: We watched as this Long-tailed Jaeger cruised by the boat and disappeared into the distance. At that time, I was standing with Bill Tweit. Bill is a seasoned guide with the Wesport Pelagic crew and has been participating on board since 1977. Anyhow, seconds later another bird came from the same direction. It wasn't the jaeger. Bill began to fidget and was mumbling until finally he screamed:

“Pterodroma Petrel, Pterodroma Petrel-this is Hawaiian group, photos!"
"Everyone get on this bird!!!"

            With only two Pelagic trips under my belt, I already new there was no way I was going to take my bins off this bird. I raised my camera in my left hand and blindly shot off about thirty photos. The bird coasted around once, giving us killer looks from above and below it, banked away and was gone. Though there are records from California and Oregon (about 20), this was a first for Washington! After some anxious minutes of scanning, we all settled down. Luckily, one of the group, Matthew Pike, was quick enough to get several photos showing all of the field marks. My photos turned out to be all of the sky. The atmosphere on the boat was electric; we had just seen a Hawaiian Petrel! We all celebrated with lots of shouting and laughing. We couldn't of asked for more, but we got more; Lori picked up another lifer ten minutes later: Sabine’s Gull!

Hawaiian Petrel by Mathew Pike
Wandering Tattler
            Back on dry land, Lori and I headed out to Tokeland Marina. We enjoyed the comings and goings of about 800 Marbled Godwit, until finally heading back to the hotel. That evening we celebrated with a nice meal at our favourite Grayland pub, where I proposed marriage to Lori-she said YES!
            The next morning we poked around the rocks behind our hotel where we found a Wandering Tattler. After packing up we birded around Ocean Shores, Bottle Beach and John's River before heading to Bellingham, where we stayed the night. Up early again, we checked a few places such as the Lummi Flats, Lake Terrel and Sandy Point, before heading back to the border. We finished our trip with 107 species.
Birding with the locals

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