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Saturday, August 14, 2010

Tofino Pelagic - August 2010

Gourmet cooks preparing a tubenose delight-sardines and popcorn
At the end of July 2010, my friend Jon Carter was booked on a pelagic trip out of Tofino             (west coast on Vancouver Island) and asked if I wanted to join him. Luckily, I had just racked up a few hours overtime and so could scrape together the $250.00 needed for this trip. Just Birding and The Whale Centre organized this excursion; two Tofino based companies.
Rich and Jon - Just Birding Pelagic
            Jon and I decided to leave early Saturday 14th from Parksville as accommodation in Tofino was full. We departed our house at 3:30 a.m. and arrived in Tofino just after 6:00 a.m. We met with the organizers and other participants at 6:30 a.m. at the Whale Centre and boarded the 30 ft open Boston Whaler at 7:00 a.m. The weather was perfect and the seas were calm as we headed out. Passing some rocky islands we began picking up some cool birds including Surfbird, Black Oystercatcher, Harlequin Duck and Heermann’s Gull. As the land disappeared behind us, we began seeing Common Murre, Pigeon Guillemot, Marbled Murrelet, Cassin’s Auklet, Red-necked Phalarope, Northern Fulmar and Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel.
            Our first big surprise was a cracking adult Tufted Puffin in breeding plumage. This member of the auk family has black plumage, white facial patch, huge red/yellow bill and distinctive yellow tufts. Everyone one on the boat got wonderful views of this individual and after about five minutes of ogling we carried on. About 20 minutes after seeing the puffin we had another great treat in the form of a Humpback Whale. In fact, there were at least three in one area and we were all thrilled to see them breeching close to the boat. It was an amazing site and everyone on the boat felt privileged to witness these gentle giants at such close quarters. We continued on our westerly route, bumping into small rafts of; Sooty Shearwater, Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel and Pink-footed Shearwater, at the same time seeing more Humpback Whales.
Tufted Puffin
Humpback Whale
            When we reached the continental shelf, approximately 35 miles off shore, we stopped for lunch. The water here was very calm with no upwelling and thus practically devoid of birds. I pulled out my little bag of tricks, namely; a mixed cocktail of popcorn and sardines, and chummed the water. This unfortunately didn’t make much difference, though we did get to see our first and last Black-footed Albatross of the day. We spent some time after lunch, cruising along the drop-off, picking up a few rafts of shearwaters and two groups of Red Phalaropes, but the birding was fairly slow. Time by now was not on our side, so we began our slow ride back to the mainland. En-route back we skirted Cleland Island where we got more puffins, big groups of Pigeon Guillemots, two Wandering Tattlers and my first Sea Otter, that was hanging out in one of the kelp beds.
Northern Fulmar
            All in all it was a very successful day with a nice variety of tubenoses to sort through and wonderful mixture of marine life to keep us all entertained.