The Albatross Trifecta! STAL, LAAL and BFAL!

We had an incredible pelagic today with Ocean Outfitters off Tofino with beautiful weather.  Our trip had been cancelled last week due to high swells but it was obviously meant to be because we had sun and relatively calm weather.

We took the ferry over from Tsawwassen and while on board we had 1 male transient Orca swim by us. We felt the trip was off to a good start. 

On the drive up we ended up getting 2 Western Screech-Owls near Port Alberni and they were calling back and forth to one another in the middle of the day which was really rare! Another young birder Joshua Brown had one fly over his head early in the morning while at Long Beach as well!. Western Screech-Owls are blue listed in BC and endangered so this is quite a rare sight but I guess it is breeding season and luck was on our side this weekend.

You can listen to a recording I made of the duet of the male and female HERE.

We got up early and 12 of us set off onto our trip on Sunday March 17th. Early into our trip on a beautiful sunny morning Ilya Povalyaev and Mike Toochin spotted our first couple of Laysan Albatrosses. They continued to multiply. At one time we had 9 of them sitting together on the water. In total for the trip we had 15 Laysans! This was a BC bird # 427 for me ! I have been trying since 2014 to see one! I have only seen them in Kauai in Hawaii. Seeing one made my day but seeing a flock of them was incredible!.

I love watching Albatrosses taking off, especially the elegant Laysan! - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Laysan Albatrosses off Tofino (We saw an incredible 15 of them!) - Photos: Melissa Hafting

We found 3 active fishing boats  and 1 non-active one and behind one was an immature SHORT-TAILED ALBATROSS spotted by Doug Martin!.  Doug was like "hey that one has a pink bill!." I had told everyone on board to keep your eye out for a pink-billed bird!!. It was insane to see one because we did the same trip last year around this time and were lucky to have 3 of them!!. So we never dreamed we would get another in back to back years!. You can read about last years trip HERE. Last time we watched the 3 Short-tailed Albatrosses for 5 hours but this time we only had the luxury of 15 mins but thankfully he circled the boat several times during the 15 minutes and everyone got good looks at him. He was banded but we were unable to get shots like last year to read the band. This bird was a lifer for all on board except for Mike and Sharon Toochin and Ilya Povalyaev and I who had him the year before. Everyone was just thrilled. He was definitely the bird of the day - high fives and hugs were had all around. Some of us were in shock. I know I was!. There are only 4200 left of these endangered birds so boy are we lucky. Long-line fishing lines threatens them to this day.

Immature Short-tailed Albatross off Tofino - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Short-tailed Albatross off Tofino - Photo: Ilya Povalyaev

The Albatross Trifecta (BFAL + LAAL + STAL) - Photo: Melissa Hafting

I talked to Bill Tweit who co-guided the Westport trip where they had the trifecta and he said that our bird is different than their 2 STAL because our bird was banded on the right leg while one of theirs was banded on the left leg and the other bird was too dark to be our bird.Watch a cool video they made of their trip HERE.

It truly seems like March is a great time to get out on the water off Tofino as you never know what you are going to get. I have to thank Mike Toochin for always pushing me to go out in June and who originally put the idea into my head last year.

The funny thing is on March 16-2017, Westport Pelagics out of Washington State had the same 3 Albatross species yesterday as well. Except they had 2 Short-tailed Albatrosses and 8 Laysan Albatrosses!.It is incredible that both back to back trips 4 hours apart had the Albatrosses trifecta! I

I am fairly certain that Sharon Toochin and I saw a Tufted Puffin but the views were too brief to say for sure. I regret not turning the boat around to get a second look. It was big and black and certainly bigger than a Rhino Auklet so I can't think of what else it could be.

The other great part about the trip that I will never forget was the marine mammals we saw which included two rarely seen dolphin species!. 

We had:

30 Risso’s Dolphins
4 Northern Right Whale Dolphins
1 Sea Otter
2 Humpback Whale
4 Northern Fur Seal

The captain said it was his first time seeing the Northern Right Whale Dolphins and second time seeing the Risso’s. For myself it was my first time seeing these dolphins and they rode the wake of the boat which was so cool seeing them so close and to see the larger  Risso's Dolphin pod was fascinating. They are all scarred up and awesome looking with their large dorsal fins and Northern Right Whale Dolphins have no dorsal fin at all and are smaller.

You can watch a video Ilya Povalyaev made of the Risso's Dolphins riding the waves HERE.

1 of 30 Risso's Dolphins we saw off Tofino on this cetacean-filled weekend! - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Some of us looking at a Longliner - Photo: Cole Gaerber

The absolute best part about the day was that we had 3 young birders on board from Victoria and Vancouver (Joshua Brown, Cole Gaerber and Rebecca Reader-Lee) and for 2 of them it was their first pelagic!. How lucky they were to get so many incredible lifers their first time! To see them so happy and excited was really special. That is what made the trip for me.

I only wish my friends who had other commitments who missed STAL last year and couldn't make this trip had been there with me today. However, there is always next year and I still have to go back out next March because I didn't get my much wanted BC Parakeet Auklet.😉

It was a great weekend with great birds, wildlife and people and we couldn't ask for more. Here's to next one! Thanks again for everyone who came and helped to make the day special!.

To read the full species list click our eBird trip report HERE.


  1. This is SUCH an exciting report! I am inspired by you and my friend Jen McKeirnan to do a local big year/count for my state. All in the name of birding where i am. A pelagic is top on my to-do list to this end. What an amazing trip you describe, something to remember for a lifetime! Thanks for sharing!

    1. thank you so much bryonny! good luck with your wa big year!! you should definitely do a pelagic trip out of westport or come up here and join me on one!! thanks again.

  2. Thanks for organizing another unforgettable pelagic! Seeing the three north pacific albatross repeatedly and so well was incredible, and the marine mammals just topped it off. Terrific photos, Mel, especially the timing on that surfacing Risso's!

    1. thanks that was one special day. thanks again for calling out the birds for us all that day and always helping me with the young birders. i think you were the most excited of everyone when you spotted that first laysan lol!

  3. Now that sounds like it was an absolutely epic pelagic trip! Congrats on the albatross trifecta and your great shots!

    1. yes it sure was liron and i wish you were with us! congrats again on having your photo at "the wildlife photographer of the year exhibit" at the royal bc museum. I guess that is one good excuse to miss a pelagic trip ;)! can't wait to get over there and see that exhibit and your photo! thanks again for your nice comment. I was really happy with my laysan shots!

  4. Holy moly woman!! That’s one mega trip. I loved your enthusiast write up! In fact you have inspired me to get back into birding since you demonstrate so much love and passion for the hobby I figured I should and obviously I need to get on the next pelagic! Nice of you to bring the kids on board. They are lucky to have you as their mentor.

  5. Wow what a great trip, sounds like beautiful weather, amazing birds and animals. Lucky to have seen the albatrosses but also the dolphins would have been so special!! Amazing and congrats

    1. thanks it was really special to see the albatrosses and dolphins. it was the best pelagic ive ever been on and still on a high. i don't think i'll ever forget this special day thanks for your nice words.


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