I knew something amazing would come along and that I would just have to find time to start blogging again. Whether I can keep it up remains to be seen.
Oregon Coast: Sept. 12, 2012
After watching hundred of sea lions at Simpson Reef for a couple of hours Dale and I drove about half a mile farther south along the Oregon Coast, to a point where we hoped to see a whale or perhaps an interesting bird or two. At first glance it looked all too quiet -- very scattered gulls and a vast expanse of Pacific Ocean. I knew the stiff breeze blowing from the North would make it extremely difficult to spot a whale’s spout. The white puff of steam would be whipped sideways and disappear amongst all the whitecaps.
Then, with binoculars, I picked up one of the awesome sights of nature -- At first I thought I saw hundred of birds, then I realized it was literally thousands of birds heading North into the stiff north breeze. They reminded me of a long thin band of large swallows tipping and turning and constantly flowing North. I could see enough to tell they were basically a very dark brown. No distinctive markings. I wondered if they were some kind of petrel.
We watched for about ten minutes, went to a nearby shelter spot to eat our lunch and returned for another look. The birds were still streaming North.
Once I got home I unsuccessfully tried to figure out the puzzle for myself. Then I turned to OBOL, Oregon Birds Online. Lars Norgren soon answered my call for help, “I'm sure those were Sooty Shearwaters, the most abundant bird in Oregon, sometimes a million are off our shore at this season.” He went on to say they nest in New Zealand and Tasmania, then move in a figure eight across the Pacific.
Now that I know the birds are sooty shearwaters I started reading. Another population of sooty shearwaters travel the Atlantic Ocean. One place says radio chips show the Pacific birds travel up to 18,000 miles in a year, another site says nearly 40,000 miles! So far they travel more miles than any other birds that have carried radio chips. The shearwaters can also dive 225 feet, but often feed on the surface. They eat squid and small fish.
Japanese call the shearwaters ‘bakatori -- Japanese for crazy bird. The Maori in New Zealand call them ‘mutton-birds,” so named for their oils, fats and food. The young are harvested just before they fledge.
Since our sighting on Sept 12 we’ve been reading about other reports of huge flocks farther north along the Oregon Coast. One night a raft of 10,000 or more rested in the fog near Newport, Oregon and over 40,000 were reported near the mouth of the Columbia River. Most recently an estimate of 200-250 thousand were seen from Boiler Bay. It is hard to imagine numbers like that. I hope to see them again.