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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

Cruise: Pacific Coast

Albatrosses, Pterodromas, and Seabirding in Comfort

2022 Narrative

In April, WINGS BIRDING TOURS boarded the cruise ship Discovery in the Port of L.A. for a short but dynamic voyage up the Pacific to Vancouver, BC. A troop of birders had just ran the route a few days earlier than our voyage and they had turned up some great sightings so we were pretty stoked to get underway and see what the far offshore waters would yield for us!

We got underway in the dim light of the evening, nothing of note was recorded that night but the next morning dawn found us off the coast of Santa Barbara still close enough to shore to get a nice selection of gulls as well as another inshore specialty and the only ones we would see on the tour, Black-vented Shearwaters. But we would quickly leave the sight of land and move off the continental shelf into the waters inhabited by various members of the tubenose family. Pink-footed Shearwaters and Black-footed Albatrosses made regular showings and slowly but surely the quarry we sought began to be encountered. Not long after reaching deeper water we saw our first Cook’s Petrels. We would only see a handful of these handsome beasts, but served alongside with our first Laysan Albatross, no one minded too much. Flocks of Sabine’s Gulls were not infrequent, and we plowed through many large flocks of Red-necked Phalaropes. Apparently a few days later, observers at Point Pinos in Monterey Bay would record exceptional numbers of migrant Red-necks; highest ever for that site and we certainly got a nice slice of what the Pinos birders were going to get in a few days.

The winds were pretty strong out there in the deep, but that worked in our favor and though we would not have too many Cook’s Petrels, by midday we had recorded a handful of another major target species, those tasty chocolate treats that are Murphy’s Petrels! We also had a few alcids scattered about, little pods of Rhinoceros and Cassin’s Auklets. Late in the afternoon we were really thrilled to have our first Hawaiian Petrel of the trip! While not the only one we would see this voyage, it was the only one we would see on what turned out to be an incredible day on the ocean. As we moved across the outer mouth of the Monterey Bay that evening, we were treated to thousands of Sooty Shearwaters moving northwards, peppered with Pink-footed Shearwaters and our only Short-tailed Shearwater of the trip.

The next morning we were docked in San Francisco for a day at port. Various tour participants wandered this lovely city, and this break allowed a certain tour-leader a chance to go repair his busted tripod as well as bumping into a family of Chestnut-backed Chickadees outside the camera shop. We boarded the ship later that afternoon to head back out. It was quite the experience sailing out from underneath the Golden Gate Bridge. As we left San Francisco Bay we were treated to lots of Common Murres and Surf Scoters milling about, along with several flocks of Western and Clark’s Grebes.

Our next full day at sea was simply put- fantastic! Northwest winds had blown all night long and even a ship as large as the Discovery did a bit of rolling through the waves. But choppy seas often equals dynamic seabirding and today certainly was the case. Dawn found us somewhere off the shelf on the watery borders of Mendocino and Humboldt counties and we had our first Murphy’s Petrel of the day before our first hour of birding had ended. Their numbers would build all morning culminating in a flock of 47 roosting in the waves before the passing of the ship kicked them up! We would record a total of 139 for the tour- one of the higher totals ever recorded in North American waters! Our first half of the day was in California waters and late in the afternoon passed into Oregon. Same as yesterday, we had nice numbers of Sooty and Pink-footed Shearwaters, lots of Black-footed Albatrosses, some Northern Fulmars, our first Fork-tailed Storm-Petrels along with some Leach’s Storm-Petrels along with steady numbers of Sabine’s Gulls punctuated by Long-tailed and Pomarine Jaegers. And we had some rarities again as well. No Cook’s Petrels today, but we encountered 7 more Hawaiian Petrels and a handful of Laysan Albatrosses.

Our final morning at sea we woke in northern Washington State. We wouldn’t get any Pteradroma petrels today, there were lots of Black-footed Albatrosses milling about. Our first couple hours we cleaved through large flocks of Red Phalaropes, many in full breeding dress, the morning sun illuminating their brick red coloration. As we drew closer to shore, alcids became more commonly sighted including several Tufted Puffins. Good numbers of Pacific Loons winged by as did several flocks of migrant ducks. We turned inward towards Victoria through the Straits of Juan de Fuca as our Sabine’s Gulls morphed into flocks of Bonaparte’s and the occasional flock of Brants would fly by. We pulled in to dock in Victoria where several Pigeon Guillemots were there to greet us, becoming the last species to be recorded on this year’s tour.

Created: 20 July 2022