Age 12, From Westport, Washington, July 1972, With Aunt and Uncle

The Fury slowly pulled away from the dock. … She passed out of the harbor, past a large jetty, a sandbar, and finally to open sea. Glaucous-winged and Herman’s gulls were the first birds sighted. … Common murres seemed to be everywhere. A bit farther out, many of Cassin’s auklets were spotted.

After what seemed like hours, the boat stopped. Then the thrill came when three Black-footed Albatrosses came to eat the suet and popcorn thrown out to them. Soaring heavily on 7-foot wings, their method of landing was to push their feet out in front of them to act as brakes and landing gear. This looked very awkward and funny, but it served its purpose very well. The albatrosses’ way of taking off is also comical looking: they take a few running steps on the water before getting airborne. The albatrosses, when sitting on the water, look like oversize ducks at a distance; but these three obligingly came up within thirty feet of the boat, so we all got very good looks at them. The first thing you notice about them is their gigantic size and generally dark brown color. They do have a white rump patch that is not visible when flying; however, it forms a striking contrast when sitting. I particularly noticed the huge, oddly shaped bill. Just in front of the bill is a ring of white (not unlike the female scaup’s ring) that shows up prominently at an amazing distance. Some people would consider an albatross dingy and ugly, but to me, he was almost beautiful. (I had longed to see an albatross for quite a while, so it is a fitting thing indeed that the black-footed albatross was by chance my 400th bird.)

Black-Footed Albatross: Photo by Klevitter John, USFWS

So much for albatrosses, there were so many other interesting birds gathered behind our boat. Among them were the fulmars. There must have been more than 50 of them sitting in the water, waiting for handouts. There are light-phase and dark-phase fulmars. The light phase was rarer, and I only saw one at this stop. This one struck me as being like a very prettily-patterned gull. The dark-phase fulmars were everywhere. They have a sort of pale sooty color and yellow bills, from my observations. The way they were just patiently sitting there gave them a dove-like, gentle feminine look, which disappeared entirely when some food came along. Then, naturally, there would be a dog-eat-dog attitude as the weaker fulmars fought for their share. However, fulmars had a strange, intelligent look in their eye which I have seen in few birds. Unlike the albatrosses, which are usually silent, the fulmars occasionally gave a strange, sharp cry.

Out of the flock of birds now gathered, the fork-tailed storm petrels were unmistakable. These birds were remarkably smaller than I expected them to be, being the size of a swallow. They were a sort of nondescript light gray, with some black pattern and a deeply forked tail. Daintily darting here and there, they resemble a swallow quite a bit.  When they spotted a bit of suet or popcorn, they would do a light, skipping dance over the water, staying in one place, of course, their wings fluttering furiously in a way that reminded you of a butterfly. Why they did not simply sit on the water instead of doing this butterfly dance? I do not know, but out of all the petrels I saw, never did I see one that wasn’t flying.

There were, of course, other birds, too—sooty shearwaters and gulls, mostly.  The sooties were all brown and looked like they didn’t have a tail, and so were easily told from the fulmars.

Our stopping place was a full 20 miles offshore; we knew it had to be because a whole lot of Russian boats were everywhere. They looked about 100 years old and I couldn’t help but marvel how they kept from sinking. The reason we stopped near them was that seabirds have a natural tendency to gather behind ships.

I was in the warm cabin, busily writing down my birds when the cry of “jaegers” reached my ears. I wasn’t in the cabin much longer after that because I didn’t have a single jaeger for life and I needed one bad. There were three or four, cresting the horizon a distance away, flying toward the ship. They looked for all the world like gulls, but as they got closer I could clearly see the jaeger profile. Someone said they were pomarines, and sure enough, I could soon see the broad, twisted tail. Another life bird!

Pomarine Jaeger in Flight II: Photo by jomilo75

Well, soon we were on our way again. … somebody said they saw a long-tailed jaeger.  The bird was flying fairly high parallel to the boat, but even at that distance, I could see the jaeger shape and long, thin tail.

The boat halted again next to another Russian ship. A whole bunch of birds had gathered behind this one. We looked with binoculars at the Russians who were likewise looking at us. We looked at the birds, too—mostly shearwaters, fulmars, petrels and a few albatrosses. I knew that pink-footed shearwaters were supposed to be quite common here, so I was on the lookout for their gray backs and white bellies. I had looked hardly five minutes before I spotted the first pink-footed; he was unmistakably colored a lot different from a sooty and very handsome looking, too…

A flock of Sabine’s gulls flew across the water. Flying like that, with their black and white patterns flashing, I thought that they were surely the showiest gulls I’d ever seen.

A man called out there was a skua out there with the shearwaters. I had thought that skuas were supposed to be here only in the winter, but then again it looked and felt so much like winter out here I couldn’t blame the birds for getting mixed up. However, I later learned that though there are quite a few more in winter, a few may be seen all year round. This one had big white wing patches and was noticeably heavier bodied. He was dark-brownish in color, otherwise.

Speeding back, we were soon in the murres’, auklets’, murrelets’ and gulls’ belt again.  There were lots of boats nearby the Fury that also were heading back to Westport. A flock of herring gulls was behind our boat. At last, we pulled into the harbor. Gathering up our stuff, we said “good-bye” to the Fury, got in the car and drove back to camp.