A few Saturdays ago, I was up at the crack of dawn so I could board the SeaBreeze Charters boat, the Four Seasons, for a trip out into ocean to find pelagic birds. Wings Over Willapa was in full swing by then. By definition, pelagic birds are seabirds that spend most of their time on the ocean away from land except during their nesting period. Albatross, petrels, shearwaters skuas and jaegers are examples of pelagic species.
As we motored our way out of the Ilwaco harbor it was ebb tide. The mud-flats were lined with great blue herons stalking their breakfast prey. Bald eagles were sitting on old cannery posts on the lookout for their next meal, and double-crested cormorants were drying their wings after diving for their breakfasts. Hundreds of western grebes were sighted along the way as we left the harbor for more open water and a flock of brown pelicans rested on a tiny spit of land revealed by the ebbing tide.
As we moved farther out the swells became high, but the birds were there.
The captain followed the plume which is where seabirds congregate to feed. The plume is where the fresh water from the Columbia and the ocean salt water meet and interact. It is the place where anchovies, a major food source, spawn. The plume area is dominated by sooty shearwaters and common murres. According to National Audubon, California gulls, brown pelicans, Caspian terns, Heermann’s gulls, double-crested cormorants, pelagic cormorants, and Brandt’s cormorants also use the plume in spring, summer and fall. Marbled murrelet and rhinoceros along the plume.
As we moved on further out there many sooty shearwaters still flying about and fattening up in preparation for the trip to their New Zealand breeding grounds. We see them off shore by the thousands in our area on both the ocean and Willapa Bay any time from August to September.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about a Sabine’s gull that was parading up and down our beaches feeding and resting. It was a lucky find because they are rarely seen on land. To my delight and amazement, as we traversed the ocean a Sabine’s gull flew by. The best bird for me was the pink-footed shearwater. It was a lifer! How lucky to see this bird. It is only seen here in the fall and it is considered rare for the Peninsula. Overall, for Pacific County, though, it is considered to be uncommon.
Pink-footed shearwaters nest from November to May on three Islands off the coast of Chile, but after the breeding season they fly north to Mexico and the western coast of the USA, where they tend to be common offshore in the Pacific Northwest. They are large seabirds with a wingspan of over 3 feet. Their main colors are dark brown above, but all white below. It tends to flock with other sea-birds and often scavenges around fishing boats.
I have to say that pelagic trips are always a thrill! The opportunity to see birds that one does not usually see from land is amazing. This is a must experience!