After leaving Little Tanaga Pass on the 27th, we sailed eastward on the north side of Atka Island. Around 7 AM the next morning, the seas got rougher because the wind shifted from the southeast to the east. We were no longer in the lee of Atka. Much of the day was spent heading eastward, first off of Atka and then Amlia Island. We were continually searching for Short-tailed Albatrosses, but no luck with that.
Late in the afternoon, we got into Seguam Pass, one of the hotspots for Short-taileds. At first we were surrounded by Northern Fulmars and Laysan Albatrosses as we had been all day, but then as we traveled further south, alcids started to appear and then large groups of feeding birds (still mostly Northern Fulmars and Laysan Albatrosses, but Short-tailed Shearwaters became more common). The tide was running from the Bering Sea side to the Pacific side, and we had finally arrived on the “right” side where there were upwellings bringing food to the surface.
Not too long after getting to this spot, I spotted an immature Short-tailed Albatross ahead of us. I called it out and jumped out of the wheelhouse to tell the people on the stern. Some of the birders in the house saw it but some missed it, and we never saw it from the stern. I went back into the wheelhouse and pretty soon spotted another Short-tailed. This one was an older subadult. Before leaving the wheelhouse, I made sure everyone in there saw it and then back to the stern and started chumming. As I threw out the first piece of chum, I looked up and two orca surfaced, appearing to be headed right for us. That was the last I noticed them because soon the Short-tailed began making passes behind the boat.
The chum kept it around the boat for about 10 minutes, but it never landed. Apparently there was more than one following the boat — one of the birders looked at his photos later and noticed that there was a near-adult Short-tailed in the background of one of the photos. Somehow we all missed that one. There was some talk that maybe there was a second sub-adult around the boat at the same time, too. I haven’t looked at all the photos, so I can’t say for sure if there was more than one.
After we left that bird, I returned to the wheelhouse, and almost immediately an adult Short-tailed Albatross made a quick pass in front of us, disappearing off our port side.
By now the winds were really picking up and wave height was about 10 feet. We made a beeline across the pass to make it to Seguam Island before the tide shifted and went against the wind. By the time we got to the east side of the pass, the wind was a steady 35 knots with some gusts going over 55. We anchored on the south side of Seguam Island, but it wasn’t entirely comfortable. The wind was still howling and there was a large swell coming from the south.
We stayed on anchor until 10:30 AM the next morning (May 29). The winds had died and sailing was much more comfortable today. The crossing of Amukta Pass was unventful. We stopped by Chagulak Island on the east side of the pass. The island was surrounded by swarms of Northern Fulmars. I don’t know how many nest on this island, but I’d guess at least several hundred thousand.
Our next destination was Herbert Island to pick up some kayakers. About an hour from reaching the island, an immature Short-tailed Albatross was spotted. Again I ran to the stern to start chumming. The albatross landed on the water but did not approach the boat. We lost sight of it, so we turned around and soon found it again. It was interested in the chum but rarely took any. The Laysans were not as shy. A few Black-footeds came in as well. At one point, all three species tried grabbing the same piece of fish.
I kept chumming and a sub-adult flew in and landed near the stern. This bird didn’t get as close to the boat, but both birds stuck around. Then Nicole, the cook, spotted a third Short-tailed. Pretty impressive because she didn’t even have binoculars and this one was pretty far back. It was another young immature. We stayed with these birds for over 30 minutes. A fourth Short-tailed, another immature, made a pass far behind our stern but didn’t stick around.
Immature and sub-adult Short-tailed Albatrosses west of Herbert Island. These two touched bills a few times, and then the Black-footeds in the background did the same. (photo by Monte Taylor)
Sub-adult Short-tailed Albatross west of Herbert Island (photo by Monte Taylor)
Once everyone filled up their camera’s memory cards, we started off for Herbert Island. Along the way, a few more Short-taileds flew by the boat. We didn’t stop for these.
We should be in Dutch Harbor tomorrow night (May 30), which will be the end of the journey.