Sunday, 15 August 2010

Vancouver Island Pelagic Birding Trip - what a weekend!

All Aboard!

I've been itching for a chance to get offshore since I moved out here, and I finally arranged to join a pelagic trip with Just Birding out of Tofino on Saturday. I'd managed to talk Rich Mooney into coming along (didn't take much, to be honest) and we headed west in the early hours, having had about 2 hours sleep...

Me and Rich (left) relaxing onboard...
We arrived in Tofino at 6am, and after a bit of
general farting around, we took off toward the continental shelf on board a small boat with just half a dozen other paying customers, the skipper and on-board bird-guide, Adrian Dorst.
The conditions were immaculate. Visibility was excellent and the ocean was flat calm - even 35 miles from shore!
This calmness may have been a contributing factor in the relative small numbers of birds we encountered, but the lack of large fishing vessels was the main reason we didn't locate any big flocks.
Nonetheless, we did find some great stuff, and the whole experience was well worth the effort.
I did get 4 lifers, which was good enough for me!

Tufted puffin by Rich
These included tufted puffin, of which we had at least 7 sighting - all superb adults in full breeding regalia. The attached pic was taken by Rich.
Cassin's auklet was another new bird for me, and we saw lots of these diminutive alcids and had great opportunities to observe them at close quarters and in flight.
One of the birds I was expecting, and really looking forward to seeing, was fork-tailed storm-petrel - I wasn't disappointed, we came across many and got ace views. Thanks to Adrian for the attached pic.
Fork-tailed storm-petrel by Adrian Dorst

The final tick, was a species I really hoped we'd bump into, but given the absence of fishing boats, I wasn't too optimistic about our finding one. Thankfully Rich picked it up, as a black-footed albatross came in from the horizon. We didn't get great views, but it was a relief to get on one in the bag, so to speak.
Other stuff we saw on the 6 hour trip included common loon, harlequin ducks, good numbers of both sooty and pink-footed shearwaters, plenty of fulmars (the majority of which were dark-phase birds), couple of wandering tattlers, black turnstones, surfbirds, and both red-necked and red (or grey, to UK readers) phalaropes, large numbers of Heerman's gulls, common murres, pigeon guillemots, marbled murrelets and rhinoceros auklets.
Unfortunate omissions included Sabine's gull, and jaegers (ie skuas, dear Brits), terns, Buller's shearwaters and Leach's petrels, never mind any of the scarcer stuff. A pair of distant silhouettes were almost certainly South Polar skuas, but we got onto them too late to be sure. Dagnabit.

Humpback whale & pink-footed shearwater by Adrian Dorst
On top of the ace birding,we also had unbelievable views of several humpback whales. Again, thanks to Adrian for the shots. (ps that's a pink-footed shearwater to the right of the whale.) Harbour porpoise and harbour seals were also spotted, as was a family of sea otters, lurking in the kelp beds, as to be expected.

Back to land and normality...

Jenny joined me on my BC Coastal Waterbird Survey at high tide, late morning today (Sunday). It was pretty unremarkable, as to be expected in August. But, it was a lovely day, and we enjoyed the walk down to Jack Point. 
I headed down to Holden Creek after the tide subsided, and was delighted to see that the high water levels had replenished the dry pools with lovely bird-attracting water!

On the creek were a dozen least sandpipers and a pair of dowitchers (pic of one here). I was inclined toward short-billed, but I'd be interested to hear what others might think. If only they'd called!
The back pool was hosting 3 lesser yellowlegs and a pair of green-winged teal. The now watery, bog-of-eternal-stench had a further 8 lesser yellowlegs, 1 greater yellowlegs, 1 long-billed dowitcher, 6 least, 1 semi-palmated & 3 western sandpiper.

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