To say I was disappointed by the Mini Pelagic that I organized as a small fundraiser for Rocky Point Bird Observatory on August 11 would be a bit of an understatement.
I have been watching the weather for a week, making sure that everything would be good for the trip, and all signs pointed to the positive. Trips like this are full of possibility, as the waters of the Strait of Juan de Fuca are very poorly birded aside from trip on the MV Coho to Port Angeles. These trips still turn up good birds, but are much further inside the Strait than what I had planned.
Anyway, back to Saturday. My heart sank when we reached the dock, and there was very little visibility. 12 other eager birders had made the trip out, hoping for the same exciting birds as I was. A quick consult with Russ Nicks, skipper for our trip, confirmed my worst fears, that after a week of quite clear weather, the Strait was completely socked in with thick fog to the east and the west, with some patchy clear areas around Race Rocks. So much for going west to Otter Point and closer to open water!
We headed out, chasing the clear patches to the east, and hoping for some bait ball action on the water. Common Murres and Rhinoceros Auklets were visible on the water, but that was about it. When we finally broke through the fog, somewhere around Pedder Bay, there were very few birds evident on the water, and definitely not the large gatherings of swarming gulls and accompanying Jaegers I was hoping for. Again, lots of alcids were visible, but nothing along the lines of Tufted Puffin or, dare I say it, Long-billed Murrelet!
We counted a large number of California Gulls, Heermann's Gulls, and Glaucous-winged Gulls, Rhinoceros Auklets, Common Murres, and Pigeon Guillemots. Chumming failed to attract any birds, and I find myself wondering if maybe someone had been out to feed them earlier in the morning!
Back into the fog, we circled Race Rocks, hoping to find a Brown Pelican or something of the like. Sharp eyes quickly located a Spotted Sandpiper on the rocks, followed by a Surfbird in its breeding finery, and a few Black Turnstones and a Black Oystercatcher among the intimidating masses of sea lions. Making a pass of the main island/rock, I noticed a shorebird that reflected very brightly in the light, and we all ended up getting good looks at a stunning breeding plumaged Ruddy Turnstone! Add in Red-necked Phalaropes, and there you have our list for the day.
The trip back to Sooke to end our 3 hour tour was also foggy, and turned up nothing new. A trip scheduled 4 months ago turned out to be the foggiest day of the year so far, but I did receive positive feedback from a couple of the participants, and I hope the rest won`t hold the weather against me!
There are still a couple of spots left for the Swiftsure trip in two weeks, which will be 8 hours out into the open ocean.
Thanks to those who came out in support of Rocky Point!
Good birding, land and sea,