Taking a Chance Aboard the Monte Carlo

The next morning I got up early and headed to the Westport marina where I boarded the Monte Carlo.  This 50-foot vessel is used by Westport Seabirds to take birders 35 miles out into the Pacific Ocean to Grays Canyon, a deepwater feature on the edge of the continental shelf.  By 7am we were casting off and heading out to sea.  Fog enshrouded the vessel for a while, but we broke free into the sunlight a couple miles out and were treated to a day of nice weather and calm seas.

We soon came upon some birds of the open ocean, like Sooty Shearwaters, Fork-tailed Storm-petrels, and Northern Fulmars.  These birds are members of the order Procellariiformes, pelagic birds that include petrels, albatrosses, and shearwaters.  They are sometimes called “tubenoses” because they all share extra tube-like openings just above their bills, as you can see on this Northern Fulmar.

These tubes lead to an olfactory-sensing organ, giving these seabirds a remarkably good sense of smell – useful for finding food out on the endless ocean. After a while we spotted our first Black-footed Albatrosses.  Black-foots considered “small” for albatrosses, but they still boast 7-foot wingspans.

In the distance, we spotted a fishing vessel, and our captain headed towards it.  Many pelagic species often follow fishing ships hoping to pick up scraps, and as we approached we saw Pink-footed and Sooty Shearwaters, many albatrosses, fulmars, and a herd of California Gulls.

We threw out some fish scraps of our own, and were soon surrounded by tubenoses.  The albatrosses came right up to our boat.

On the way back, we spotted a number of new species, including Sabine’s Gull, South Polar Skua, and a jaeger.  Motoring back into the Westport harbor about 4pm, we passed a huge flock of Marbled Godwits roosting on the breakwater.

Although we didn’t spot any super-rarities, the excellent viewing conditions, calm seas, and mostly cooperative birds made for a very successful trip.  And best of all, we didn’t have engine trouble in the middle of the ocean, like my more adventurous SoCal pelagic trip back in July.

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