Thursday 18 May 2017

Pelagic Birding

May 5-9 2017 Tofino and Ucluelet, 

The chance to visit the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve was eagerly anticipated. The weather is always a concern at Long Beach but we lucked out and had three days of sun. We camped out in our VW Westfalia at the Ucluelet Campground. The site has excellent harbour views, immaculate facilities and decent birds including Orange-crowned, Yellow-rumped Warblers and Hermit Thrush. 

I just love this Parks Canada graphic ©Park Canada

Prior to the WildResearch's pelagic we visited Tofino where the beaches held small flocks of Whimbrel and Western Sandpipers. It was the weekend of the Shorebird Festival so there were plenty of birders around. Unfortunately we missed the workshops which was a shame but there is always next year. Here are some pix with the Nikon P900 bridge camera which I use to bring in distant subjects, shoot scenics on the run and shoot 1080p video.

P900 at 24mm
Can you see the Whimbrel?

P900 at 2000mm
The 24mm-2000mm did a fine job of picking out the Whimbrel at 200 metres.
I shoot the P900 hand held except for the when I shoot video.

The P900 does not replace a DSLR but I was the only one on the beach who got these decent ID shots. I think the camera is the perfect companion for the birder who wants to make record shots and who doesn't want to be burdened down with lots of heavy gear.

Another P900 from 200 metres.
Just another fun shot when I didn't want to haul out my DSLR.

The image isn't that sharp but a tourist thought it was a killdeer, I was happy to provide photographic evidence to the contrary. 

 The Pelagic

We left Ucluelet 7.a.m

The dead calm conditions would probably mean less birds but we had no control over the weather.

A list of the birds we saw are described in the WildResearch newsletter is pasted from their newsletter at the end of this blog.
 I used the Nikon D500 and the excellent 200mm-500mm F5.6 zoom which I have no hesitation in saying is one of their very best Nikon camera/lenses combos.

Northern Fulmar
Northern Fulmar (Pacific light morph)

 I really like this shot of the Pink-footed Shearwater as it skims close to the waves. Sometimes the bird would disappear behind a wave and then suddenly re-appear. My favourite shot from the trip.
Pink-footed Shearwater.

     We had a brief look at three Humpback Whales but being a bird tour we were on another mission.
Humpback Whale

(Below) I just managed to catch this Pomarine Jaeger as it flew over my shoulder. The light/sky background is a huge distraction but it's included nevertheless.

Pomarine Jaeger (light-morph breeding adult)
California Sea Lions.
Note how high some have climbed up on the buoy to sun themselves or perhaps evade Killer Whales!

The Nikon 200mm-500mm combined with the Nikon D500 is the perfect wildlife camera/set-up especially on a boat where the use of tripod is not possible.
(Below) we also saw numerous Pacific Loons migrating up the coast and not just from the pelagic tour boat. In Ucluelet we saw many pass the area known as the Amphitheatre. The rocky area and lighthouse provided us good views of Black Turnstones and Black Oystercatchers.
Pacific Loon photographed from the boat.

Another bird that I overlooked by me was the Sooty Shearwater, it just doesn't have the appeal of say an albatross and regrettably I only have a few shots to choose from but maybe if there is another trip in September I can concentrate more on the photography and a little less daydreaming.

Sooty Shearwater.

 WildResearch's 2017 Pelagic Seabird Birding Fundraiser - Update
Dan Froehlich

Last week WildResearch’s Pelagic Fundraiser once again took to the margins of the continent to explore offshore birdlife.  Sixty-four birders convened at 7am at the Ucluelet’s tiny harbour to board the M.V. Frances Barkley, our excursion boat for the day.  Already in the harbour, clearing skies, mild temperatures, and slack winds made our spirits soar in anticipation of a good day on the water.

Before we even boarded, a group of young birders from BCFO quickly zeroed in on a weird gull off to the side—as did their sharp eyes on all the birds we encountered for the duration of the trip.  It was such a pleasure having them aboard!  The gull defied easy identification: the bicolored bill and pale features suggested some Glaucous Gull heritage, but the petite head features and smallish size suggested Herring or Thayer’s parentage—a gull potpourri!

We soon got going, quickly passing out of the harbor with a few ducks and cormorants and across the inshore bar with its yaw and pitch—turns out these were the biggest waves we encountered all day!  We picked up the first seabirds, Murres and Loons (Pic. 1) and a passel of Brandt’s cormorants—likely locally breeders.  Before long everyone started noticing small groups of tiny pale birds, bobbing on the water, flitting by the bow, the stern, and off in the distance.  We found ourselves amid a migration of Phalaropes, those red-neck Poseidon sprites that breed in the high Arctic only to forsake land for the rest of the year and scud across the oceans of the world in patterns that still elude science.  By the end of the day we tallied over 550 passing the boat.  After hours examining these groups for red-bellied birds, eventually some sharp eyes spotted a pair of spectacular Red Phalaropes zipping by the boat as well, showing off their distinctive all-red body plumage, visible even in flight.

Other seabirds showed up soon as well, the first Fork-tailed Storm-Petrels and Sooty Shearwaters that attended us all day long, each of them showing a gap of missing feathers as they started in on their annual flight feather molt.  Farther out, we encountered a handful of Pink-footed Shearwaters (Pic. 2).  Regular chumming of baitfish leftovers from a fish-processing plant garnered us a regular entourage of our genetic slop of Glaucous-winged, Western & mixed gulls, as well as a surprising number of Herring Gulls, joined far offshore by California Gull and briefly by a classy breeding-plumage Bonaparte’s Gull that gave up after being displaced repeatedly by the larger gulls.  Several groups of Sabine’s Gulls passed the boat but, as is typical, wouldn’t be distracted by the offal off the ship. 

Marine highlights were the two Pomarine Jaegers that paused briefly by the boat, displaying their curiously curved tail feathers to advantage (Pic. 3).  Finally, toward the end of the boat trip, already close to the near-shore swells, Liam Singh, one of the BCFO youth birders, got on a fast-moving shearwater near the boat as it passed off the stern and zoomed on out of sight.  He managed to snap some stunning photos of a Manx Shearwater, an abundant species of the North Atlantic but a mysterious species in the North Pacific with only about 50 records off Vancouver Island (Pic 4).  Increasing records in coastal Washington waters suggest that the species has started breeding on offshore islands—with May records so close to shore off Vancouver Island, who knows, perhaps they’re taking up breeding in BC as well!

By the time of our return, the waters were truly placid, the skies bright—I don’t think anyone “lost their lunch!”  The still winds, though, may have nixed our chances for albatross—their sternum with only a modest keel limits effective flapping to create lift, meaning they require a stiff breeze to get aloft!  In any case, visibility was excellent for the birds we did see, making for a memorable excursion.  Thanks to all who participated and to all the sharp eyes that spiced up the trip with excellent finds (Pic 5)
Many people are to thank for making the Pelagic Trip a success. Big thanks to Renae Mackas and Myles Lamont for organizing the trip logistics, and to previous trip organizers Paul Levesque and Christine Rock for passing on all their helpful tips and advice for planning. More big thanks Dan Froehlich and Ilya Povalyaev for spotting and calling out birds, Azim Shariff for chumming in the birds, Angela Bond and Anna Szeitz for helping keep everyone happy on board, and the Captain and Crew of the MV Francis Barkley, for keeping us safe and going the extra mile to help us spot great seabirds. Thanks also to everyone that participated in WildResearch’s Spring 2017 Pelagic Trip fundraiser. We look forward to seeing you all on our next pelagic trip!

"It's never to late to go Pelagic birding"
John Gordon
BC Canada

1 comment:

  1. That was one spectacular trip for the kids especially since Liam found that Manx Shearwater. Gorgeous weather too a rarity in Tofino! At the airport we found 4 Pacific Golden-Plovers was very special.