For many people the idea of bobbing about on choppy seas for ten hours, just to look at birds, borders on insanity. It is reasonable to say that this is 99% accurate but no less insane than watching fast cars pass you in split-seconds, buying junk on eBay or going shopping for nothing specific, just for the pleasure of shopping, all activities that many people like to do.
Originally our boat was to be ‘Misty’ but was switched to the Enterprise at the last minute, I guess somebody made it so. I was not alone in thinking that the boat was a bit small for the number of people on it, it was a fishing charter, used to probably eight to ten rods. We were perhaps 25-30 waterproofed bods, well most, one lady did the trip in a pleasant blouse and slacks, and we were all hyped up for the trip.
The Captain did the ‘please don’t die on my watch spiel’ and we were off. There river follows long breakwaters out into the open ocean and the swell and chop is magnified by the narrowness, relatively, of the passage. The leaders, Russ, Thomas and Jim, and maybe Noah, I’m not sure, started shouting out the trip ticks. Peregrine on the bridge, Long-tailed Duck under it and some elusive Red-necked Phalaropes in the big chop at the end of the channel.
Common stuff was added quickly before we spent some time annoying Marbled Murrelets into being less furtive. Then it was time to bounce forth and seek. The next hour and half was spent forging on, pausing to take in the first Sooty Shearwaters of the day and odd padders to the list, and trying birderfully to get a decent look at the Cassin’s Auklets. The waves and the fact that the auklets looked most un-Sibley like caused a few scratched heads but the boat elders assured us that the blobs were those and we did get some good views later.
By occupying the same spot for the duration of the trip out, we missed the odd bird but saw a Sunfish close too and five Red Phalaropes, another year tick.
As we approached a chum slick, comprised of minced beef and olive oil, Pink-footed Shearwaters started to scoot past and more gulls kept time with us. The first ABA tick duly appeared, an adult Long-tailed Jaeger. It kept harrying everything off starboard and I think I took a hundred frames for three in focus, but it was good to get it, finally. Distant Sabine’s Gulls did nothing to improve my photo archive of the species, I had hoped to get something that looked less like a dead fly on the lens, as my current ones did.
I know I’ve already posted a few shots from the pelagic but I’ll re-post here for context, plus a few extras.
Our target location was to be the Perpetua Bank, around 35 miles offshore. I don’t think we ever actually got there for a combination of reasons. Whether we’d have seen a few storm petrels had we found it is a moot point, once we found the first trawler we started to hit the seabirds and there was plenty to keep us busy, not least retaining balance in the swell!
The spectacle of being surrounded by seabirds is something that has been an ambition and following those trawlers fulfilled that ambition. Birds were everywhere and it was hard to not be distracted by the constantly active mass. I was pleased to pick the first Pomarine Jaeger as it sauntered off starboard at range, even more pleased to call the first South Polar Skua we saw on the day, a life bird but not so different from Great Skua and I’ve seen thousands of them, some have even left scars (see my birding eBook, ‘Going for Broke’ for details).
Buller’s Shearwater was next to find ink on my checklist, although my attempts to digitise one failed, with record shot being a generous assessment of my efforts. By this time I’d started to move around the boats as the conditions demanded and I was possibly five feet and two bodies away from seeing an Ashy Storm-Petrel, or at least tickable views of one. I did snap Pink-footed Shearwater though.
The frenetic activity meant that it was time to ration the lens for looks and I chose well, a brief but energetic Flesh-footed Shearwater tore past a few times and I did get that one in full view. Two more Sabine’s Gulls came past and got a cursory click, as befitting their distance, and more efforts were made to get an acceptable Pink-footed Shearwater shot while all the time hoping to find the Flesh-footed or Buller’s in the viewfinder. Neither of the latter two ambitions happened and we had to make do with multiple Black-footed Albatross as they wheeled past or plunged to the sea after morsels.
Hopes were high that a Laysan Albatross would join us but it never did, nor did a storm petrel deign to rejoin the throng. We immersed ourselves in a couple more trawler trails but the species mix remained constant and soon we were at full-pelt for shore. The weather had worsened and white caps were telling us of further bounce to come. The brisk pace made birding virtually impossible and the sheets of spray lashing the rear deck meant that most scurried under the cabin for protection.
A couple of Western Fulmars – there, get on with the split.
This is a shark, not sure what species – fear not it’s a bread eater.
Some birds were seen on the return. A Parasitic Jaeger completed the west coast set. More phalaropes and another South Polar Skua but it was not easy watching. In the opposite of the trip out, shearwaters remained with us until we were fairly close in, and indication that the predicted blow was well on course.
It was a relief for all to get back to the dock, the return from a pelagic is often just engine noise, spray and wind until you can alight. As our first true west coast pelagic it had been rewarding and three lifers were most welcome. Thanks to the guides for their sterling efforts in getting everyone onto the birds and thanks to everyone else on board for making it such an enjoyable trip, well the bit when we actually got to the birds at least.
I ended th day sat on the balcony watching the birds again, nothing was added to the trip list but it did not matter. The next day we were heading south, our prime target was to be shorebirds and Elegant Tern. The trip list was going along nicely and, although it would have been nice to have a few early hours at Boiler Bay again, sans evangelist this time, we were on a schedule and had to go.