For the Birds: There Are Seabirds Off-shore

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Morning of Pelagic Trip

Text and Photos by Christine Southwick

You may know that Washington is in the Pacific Flyway— one of four North American migration routes used by land birds, but did you know that there is a Pacific Pelagic Flyway used by seabirds along our coast? Seabirds are pelagic. Pelagic applies to any birds that live in open oceans/ seas, usually not within sight of land.

Albatross, Sooty Shearwaters, and Gulls
Seabirds, like Albatross, Shearwaters, Fulmars, Petrels, travel north and south just a few miles from our coast during their migration. Three species of Albatross regularly use this flyway. If you grew up reading the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, you might believe, like I did, that Albatross are to be found in the South Pacific. They do breed there, on uninhabited atolls and islands, the only time that Albatross, and most seabirds go to land. The rest of the time they glide on long narrow wings with long intervals between strokes.

Where do you go to see birds that don’t touch land? A pelagic boat trip of course. There are pelagic bird trips that have bird experts to help you identify birds that most people only see in books. Here in Washington there are regular pelagic trips leaving from Westport and Neah Bay.

Earlier this month I went on a six hour pelagic trip starting at Westport. It was a wonderful sunny day, with hardly any wind— perfect weather for viewing birds floating up and down on the water, or slowly gliding low above the waves. Most of the birds we saw floating on the surface were Common Murre, a good-looking bird, and California Gulls (the term “Seagulls” is a misnomer, since almost all gulls breed inland). We even saw some Sabine’s Gulls, a gull you will not see on land around here.

On this trip, I saw Black-footed Albatrosses, Sooty Shearwaters, Flesh-footed and Pink-footed Shearwaters, Buller’s Shearwaters, and Northern Fulmars— all seabirds that travel long miles eating food close to the surface, although some will occasionally dive after food they can see or smell.

Shrimp boats draw seabirds

Shrimp boats bring a lot of food to the surface, and this draws lots of birds. Where there are shrimp or fishing boats there are seabirds. Our skipper piloted us within viewing range, and this is where we found our largest collections of migrating pelagic birds.

Brown Pelicans line the breakwater barrier

As we pulled back into the marina, the breakwater was covered with Brown Pelicans.

This was a great experience!


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